IF ONLY I HAD KNOWN
We all want to fall in love and live happily ever after. However, the reality is that despite all of the self-help books, therapists, life coaches, relationship experts and retreats, we are continuing to spiral downwards when it comes to our relationships. Just look at the high divorce and domestic violence statistics! I have found that one of the major reasons why couples have difficulties is that they frequently fail to discuss important subjects, including lifestyle, money, children, goals, values, sex, monogamy, religion, exes, interests, hobbies, political beliefs, roles and step-parenting. Although these subjects are not sexy or romantic, it is critical to know how your partner feels and stands on real-life issues BEFORE committing to any serious relationship. These issues can ultimately make or break relationships.
SERENE AND JONATHON
Serene and Jonathon met on J.Date and have been dating for six months. Serene, 45, has been divorced for two years after a 20 year tumultuous marriage. She has two teenage children, 13 and 15, and shares custody with her ex-husband. The children spend half the week with her and half the week with their father. Child support remains a contentious issue and Serene and her ex frequently find themselves back in court futilely trying to resolve their differences. Jonathon, 65, is a widower who is the CEO of a major financial institution. He has two grown married sons and three grandchildren. Although both say that they are looking for a serious long-term relationship, recent discussions about lifestyle and children have caused tensions and the couple are trying to decide whether to move forward or end their relationship.
After Jonathon’s wife died he promised himself that he would not date or live with a woman with young children. His wife had been ill for many years and following her death, he was looking for a carefree life, that included travel, socializing with friends and more time to enjoy his freedom. Although he loves Serene, he has not been interested in getting to know her children and has no desire to be a step-parent.
SERENE AND JONATHON IN THERAPY
Serene and Jonathon recently contacted me for therapy at my East Hampton office and wanted to try to see whether there was a way to salvage their relationship, despite their challenges. After conducting an in-depth couples session and subsequently meeting with Serene and Jonathon individually, it was clear to me that Serene and Jonathon really loved each other, shared similar values and goals and had great chemistry and communication. Lifestyle differences and Serene’s children seemed to be the only things that were getting in the way of their happily ever after. Could these differences be resolved?
THE RESOLUTION: COMPROMISES AND TRADE-OFFS
Although Serene and Jonathon would have loved to move in together, they decided that it would be better under the circumstances, for both to continue to maintain separate residences and see each other as often as possible. Jonathon agreed to try and get to know Serene’s children and was open to seeing if they could develop a cordial relationship. This was a major concession, since he and the children had little if anything to do with each other.
Although Serene and Jonathon had never discussed money issues before, Jonathon offered to help Serene financially if she agreed to end the court battles with her former husband. Serene burst into tears when she heard his generous offer and immediately agreed to stop further court proceedings. They realized that since they were serious about planning a future together, in-depth conversations about money, wills, power of attorney, healthcare surrogates, beneficiaries, life insurance, etc. had to occur and would be particularly important, since there was great disparity in their financial situations. Adding to their challenges were Jonathon’s children who were the beneficiaries of their father’s vast holdings. They had become suspicious of Serene’s motives, wary that she was really a “gold digger,” and became concerned that their own financial situation would be jeopardized if their father were to marry her. Clearly these children issues have to be worked out as Serene and Jonathon try to move forward!
ANALYSIS: TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE
This is a beautiful and healthy example of how two people demonstrated their love and commitment to each other by being willing to discuss difficult issues and make significant compromises and trade-offs, which led to a win-win resolution. Both Serene and Jonathon knew themselves (and each other) very well. They were in touch with their own feelings and, therefore, were both able to consciously and rationally make good decisions with their eyes wide open.
However, many people fool themselves by saying yes when they really mean no and end up being miserable because they made compromises and trade-offs that were self-destructive or self-sabotaging. So when considering whether you should stay or leave your relationship, you need to ask yourself three important questions:
1. What do I want and need in a relationship? 2. What do I NOT want and need in a relationship? 3. How would I describe the reality of my relationship?
In a best case scenario, what you want and need is mostly what you have. Nothing or no one is perfect! However, you may discover in evaluating your relationship, that the minuses outweigh the pluses in virtually all of the important areas. Remember there are situations and behaviors where compromises and trade-offs should never be considered or made under any circumstances at all including: verbal, physical, emotional, sexual and substance abuse, poor or non-existent communication and problem-solving skills and the inability to be emotionally and sexually intimate.
So in the final analysis, take the Shakespearean character Polonius’ advice to heart — “This above all: To thine own self be true.”
Beatty Cohan, MSW, LCSW, AASECT is a nationally recognized psychotherapist, sex therapist, author of For Better for Worse Forever: Discover the Path to Lasting Love, columnist, national speaker, national radio and television expert guest and host of “The Ask Beatty Show” on the Progressive Radio Network, which airs live every Monday afternoon, 3–4 p.m. EST. She has a private practice in New York City and East Hampton.