For Jane, marriage was great once. When she was in her 20’s and even early 30’s it felt romantic and satisfying doing all the domestic things together, having kids, creating a home.
Then one day she realized that 15 years of marriage to Robert had was stifling her. She didn’t know who she really was any more, except somebody else’s wife and mother. “Who am I? How do I find myself? I’m just in my forties, but my life feels over” she complained.
Robert found her new attitude terrifying. She was changing right in-front of his eyes, from contented wife to spiritual warrior. She would come home from Yoga and talk about the lonely path to self actualization. She emphasized the solitary part. “I’m not preventing you from having a self” he would say. But for Jane, she was beginning to feel the only way she could reclaim her life was to leave the marriage and breathe fresh air alone.
When the couple came to me for marriage counseling, I gave Jane a challenge.
“Do you want to know the best chance to discover who you really are?” I asked her.
I explained to her that being free of her relationship might help her feel better, but the best path to personal growth is actually to stay with the one you love. Being alone is emotionally easy, so it doesn’t create growth. You can just choose to hang out with people who say nice things about you, and avoid the others. It’s your significant other who has the power to push all your buttons and also give you more of what you need to heal. The trick is being able to use this experience in a positive way. If Jane left Robert, she would cut off her own potential for growth.
At the heart of Imago Couples Therapy is a belief that the purpose of committed relationships is to enable each partner to develop to their fullest potential. Even conflict, rather than being an entirely negative force, is seen as just a sign that growth is trying to happen.
Here are five steps that helped Robert and Jane build a stronger relationship and meet their deepest needs together:
1. Be clear about the purpose of your relationship
Take a while to look at your relationship as an amazing opportunity to help you both reach your full potential. Explore your differences together, in a constructive way, and you can find ways in which you can help each other to grow. The partner who is spiritual and deep can help their more emotionally reserved partner see more magic in the world. The partner who is safe and dependable can help their more extravagant partner learn to be comfortable with financial planning.
2. Create a vision for your relationship
If you are traveling a road together, it’s so much better to be pulling in the same direction. Spend some time looking at what you both most want out of your life together. Ask your partner to talk about their dreams, and without commenting on them, simply mirror back their words to show you have heard them. You will find that as the list grows some things you will both want, and some you will be happy for your partner to have.
3. Learn about non-blaming