Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

Recently I saw a young couple in counseling. I knew them well for they have come to see me once a year over the past six years. They have three small children and want the marriage to work. They have several important unresolved issues, which we begin to work on in a session, but then I don’t see them for a full year or more. Each time I see them the issues have grown in magnitude to the point that their relationship is in serious risk of dissolving. I asked them why they don’t come more often than once a year. They replied that they feel they can’t afford to come more often. I saw them both drive up separately in relatively new cars, and they recently bought a home, so I know they aren’t poor. In a gentle but firm voice I told them that a divorce lawyer is going to cost them 3 to 4 times the hourly rate that I charge, at many more hours. Unless they do the work to resolve these issues they are headed in that direction. They got the point and have been seeing me on a regular basis and finally doing the work to resolve their issues.

Problems in a relationship, whether an intimate relationship, friendship, sibling, or parent/child, do not just go away on their own. Each time an issue or challenge presents itself in a relationship, there is a golden opportunity to heal and grow closer to that person. Ignoring the issue and hoping it will go away is inviting distance and separation.

When Barry and I lead our couple’s workshops, we stress over and over the importance of resolving issues completely. Do whatever it takes to bring it through to completion and harmony. You will know that you are complete when you can smile about it and even laugh at how childish you both were at the time. If there is still heaviness and you hope that time will take that away, you have not resolved the issue. An unresolved issue will be like a cancer with the potential to spread into other areas of your relationship, eroding the joy, lightness, love and beauty. The next time there is a new issue between you, this old unresolved issue will be right there too. It can get to be like a stew pot of unresolved issues all coming to the front with even the slightest inharmony. An irritation over the phone bill soon also includes, “why don’t you tell me about our finances,” and “why don’t you value me,” and “your mother did the same thing to your father, and “why did you buy that new sports car.” You can see how a relationship like that can get to be impossibly heavy carrying around the weight of all those unresolved issues. Imagine the weight as a hundred pound sack and realize how difficult it would be to dance together.

We have been together for 40 years, married for 36. There have been three times in our relationship when we were unable to resolve an issue on our own. We used all the skill that we have and yet it was still unresolved. In those three times we sought professional help because there was a blind spot for each of us. The therapist was able to listen to both of us and help us come to a place of resolution that we both felt good about. I feel very grateful for that help. Most times we have been able to work things through on our own. Sometimes we can clear the issue in a matter of a few minutes, sometimes an hour and sometimes it can take several days. But we still keep working on it until we both say that we feel complete, we understand our own part and responsibility in the issue rather than simply blaming each other, are willing to go on, and there is an even deeper connection and sometimes even humor to the situation. In working each issue through to completion we have been able to retain a beautiful lightness in our relationship that we both cherish.

Sometimes in our counseling practice we see couples that have waited too long. The weight of unresolved issues is just too much and they break under this burden. This is very sad for us, for we sense underneath the heaviness a time when there was a beautiful lightness and joy to the relationship. When issues are handled as soon as they come up, the lightness can flourish in a relationship and lead two people into a lifetime of fulfilling connection and love. We urge you to take each issue seriously and do whatever it takes to bring it to completion, rather than ignoring it. I often think of my mother’s words to me about her sixty-year marriage to my dad, “We worked all of our issues out in the first forty years. The last twenty we basked in the supreme joy of that work.”

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