How we came to be with the person we married has a bearing on the relationship. The familiar story is that people fall in love, and have some time before deciding to commit to each other. But there are countless ways people end up together including unspoken or unacknowledged fears; the fear of being alone, of not having a family, fear of being a single parent, fear of acknowledging homosexuality, fear of financial insecurity… plus other drivers that may have played a big part in why you married who you did.
I always ask couple clients to tell the story of how they met and got together. There is lots of information in what they say. Considering that what has brought these two people into my consulting room is some distress in the relationship, its interesting to see how some couples light up remembering the past. They recall important words or gestures, and tell of the challenges and delights of being in love. Sometimes it’s as if the story is separate from the other person in the room, happy memories of a bygone time, the gorgeous wedding, told in a way that is not easily recognised by the partner. And sometimes the story lacks energy, and faces remain unchanged in the telling. Some clients had arranged marriages, as its common in some cultures that family can be relied on to help select a suitable partner. The stories of these couples is equally important, as there is still a process of selection, but often with more realistic expectations than those marrying for love. (The ‘success’ rate of arranged marriages is about equal to that of love marriages.)
I often ask clients “who chose who?” – either one or both people actively chose the other. If only one chose, there can be an imbalance, and the one chosen may withhold – they don’t need to really commit, as they are married. There may be many reasons for not choosing – your partner was so clear and certain, you didn’t need to be. Perhaps it all happened quite fast because of pregnancy, travel or visas.
For couples who fell in love, they have the experience of a free sample of what is possible, and it can be the glue for staying together through difficult times. But it can also create an attachment to ‘how things ought to be’, with the goal being to return to the honeymoon phase – and that can get in the way of resolving difficulties successfully.
For couples whose experience strays from some fairytale beginning, acknowledging the reality of their own story can be very positive. To see what brought them together and what they have created as a couple, opens the way to change. And it’s never too late to choose. If you know you want the relationship, you are choosing your partner. To arrive at a place where you want to say “I choose you” is a loving commitment.
The present changes the past.
Looking back you do not find what you left behind.
– Kiran Desai