The real work of a relationship begins after the honeymoon period. Hollywood doesn't have much to say on how to actually create a "happily ever after." I do believe in happy marriages and long-term committed partnerships. I believe it is possible. I also think "happily ever after" looks very different from what popular culture would have people believe. Many folks are under the impression that a happy and satisfying relationship just happens naturally. And then, when it doesn't, a person may believe they are somehow at fault. Here are some of the hard truths I've witnessed in my work as a premarital therapist in the Denver Metro Area:
#1 Successful relationships are created through intention and hard work. (They don't "just happen.")
Popular culture suggests that happy relationships "just happen" somehow. In my experience as a couples therapist in Broomfield, Colorado, relationship satisfaction happens when partners want a satisfying relationship and are willing to do the hard work to create one. It's no small ask. It requires knowing yourself and being willing to see your partner as they are, not as you'd like to imagine them. This sounds simple, but in reality many people never learned these skills. Ask yourself: Do I have a good understanding of my own needs, wants, and boundaries? Am I able to communicate these clearly to my partner? Do I respect my partner as an autonomous person who has different needs, wants, and boundaries than I do?
#2 Relationships are a radical opportunity for personal growth.... and growth is usually uncomfortable.
Time and again I see couples where the relationship dynamic within the couple is a re-creation of family dynamics from childhood. Honestly, it is fascinating to witness how often this happens. Theory suggests that people do this subconsciously because the childhood dynamic is familiar and is associated with love, despite how dysfunctional it might be. An alternative point of view is that the psyche is drawn to a dysfunctional dynamic in order to create a new opportunity to resolve an old issue. Whatever the reason, relationships tend to call forward the most difficult, but also the most profoundly healing, opportunities for personal growth. For many partners, the growth that the relationship demands of them is the real source of their individual discomfort. Ask yourself: Do I experience hurts in my relationship that feel old and familiar? Do my frustrations with my partner seem overwhelming and impossible?
#3 Accepting your partner as they are is a big ask for most people.
Accepting things as they are opens things up to the possibility of change, which is the ultimate paradox. In many cases, a person is in relationship with their idea about who their partner is, rather than being in relationship with the actual person. In relationships, accepting your partner as they are is a necessary first step. This kind of acceptance is powerful, and can lead to the kind of clarity that generates decisions and action. For example, with acceptance it might become painfully obvious that a relationship is meant to end, or that some other change needs to occur. Once a person can accept their partner as they are, it becomes possible to genuinely collaborate. Partners can understand each other's strengths and weaknesses, appreciate the collaboration that is possible, and find alternative solutions when collaboration isn't an option. Ask yourself: Am I constantly trying to get my partner to do something, to stop something, to be a certain way? Do I continue to feel surprised by behavior that my partner does repeatedly?
I take a structured and time-limited approach to premarital counseling based in Gottman principles. Couples learn the foundational practices for a long-lasting marriage or relationship. Additionally, partners learn about themselves and their partner while interacting with each other "live" during a therapy session. I actively facilitate and coach each person toward more productive and effective communication and handling of conflict with their partner.
About the Author
Diana Calvo is a Denver couples therapist. She provides professional support to couples in all stages of relationship and has experience working with the many difficult issues couples are faced with. Diana offers premarital counseling, couples therapy, discernment counseling, and divorce counseling services to Boulder, CO and Denver, CO. All gender identities, sexual orientations, and relationship styles are welcome.