What this Valentines Day has me thinking about…
What this Valentines Day has me thinking about…

20 years ago my husband, Curtis, and I became an official couple on Valentines Day. It’s easy for me to picture the very moment he asked me. How nervous and excited I was. How infatuated we were with one another!

So much has changed in those 20 years, it was that thought that spurred a conversation with my husband about our relationship. Now to add a bit of context I often tell people that Curtis is about as far away from the therapy world, mindset wise, as you can get. The way I think and express myself is extremely foreign to him. The same is true for me, how he expresses himself can be a mystery to me. This has lead us to have a number of struggles to the point of our relationship almost ending and us seeking help in our own couples therapy. You can learn more about that in the article “How to choose a couples therapist“.

Needless to say, to make it to this 20 year mark we both had to grow…A LOT! Here is the conversation I had with Curtis about the journey of our relationship:

Stacy: If you could have know how to do something better at the beginning of our relationship what would that have been?

Curtis: To talk and listening better. To know how to do more open communication

Stacy: Do you feel like couples therapy helped you?

Curtis: Yes

Stacy: How?

Curtis: I learned how to hear what your side of things are and not go into my automatic reactions. To slow down and try to understand each other worlds and to function as a cohesive unit.

Stacy: Was there anything else you learned?

Curtis: Learning to bring up things that bug me instead of holding them in, letting them build up, creating resentment and allowing that to effect how I treat you. This is still something I’m working on.

Stacy: What made you not want to tell me?

Curtis: How I thought you would react or respond.

Stacy: When you finally would tell me, we’re your thoughts about how I’d react correct?

Curtis: Often times no. Often my assumption about how you would react wasn’t true. I wasted time resenting you and being distant. Now I realize that speaking up is important and that my spouse needs to be a person I’m vulnerable and open with. It’s still hard sometimes and it’s work but it’s worth the effort.

It’s like thinking the grass is greener on the other side, it isn’t. You get a whole other set of issues. You will just end up repeating the same stuff that doesn’t work. If you don’t learn what you need to do to be healthy in your current relationship you won’t have what you need to make the next one any better; I think people think they will and that’s just not true.

Stacy: I completely agree. How do you feel I have grown to be a better partner to you?

Curtis: Learned to live with a robot. (He was joking. Robot is a term of endearment we use for him because it’s hard for him to express his emotions) But seriously, you learned how to show up in ways that I need that aren’t as natural for you. You’ve learned how to ask me for things so that it doesn’t feel like nagging to me.

Stacy: Of course I never thought I was nagging you, so that was a challenge for me. Is there anything else you feel I do better now?

Curtis: Yeah, you learned to stop when I get full. Full meaning, I couldn’t take any more information in and I needed time to process; when I didn’t have enough bandwidth to continue.

Stacy: That’s true. This was also a hard one for me to learn because our “full” looks so different. It means I have to stop a lot, because I can often hold more information than you at one time; specifically around conflict and emotions.

Curtis: Yes that is true. You also don’t take things as person when I forget, which can be often, you aren’t as sensitive about it.

Stacy: Yes. I know now it’s not about me or your feelings for me and if it’s an issue we just talk about the specific situation. Are their things you still think you are working on?

Curtis: How to communicate more about emotions and to put things in their home (meaning home organization)…I learned this is not about you being controlling, which is what I used to believe.

Stacy: What do you think it is for me?

Curtis: Your level of internal stress.

Stacy: Yes, that is exactly right. I think I’m still learning how support you in non-emotional ways. I sometimes have to slow myself down and realize at times supporting you looks like space vs. being together…like making sure you have time to go to the gym without seeing it as you not wanting to spend time with me. I also think we’re still working on how to be a better team and stay connected when life gets busy, but I think that is something we will alone growing in.

Do you think we would have gotten to this same place without couples therapy?

Curtis: No because we were just stuck in the same cycle and we wouldn’t have learned the tools to break that cycle and create a new path forward.

Stacy: I agree 100%. I think there were times we both wanted to leave the relationship but we’re now both very thankful we stayed. We have both grown in ways we wouldn’t have if the other person didn’t push us to grow. What do you think?

Curtis: Absolutely, you helped me become less of a robot.

It was a really good conversation and I even learned more about Curtis, which is fun and feels connecting. What is great about what we’ve learned and why I decided to share it, is that the issues that almost destroyed our relationship are extremely common and completely possible to work through. We were able to grow and keep growing because we have a few key things, here is what they are:

  1. We’re both individually motivated to work hard and grow.
  2. We’re both willing and able to look at our part of the dysfunctional pattern. We stopped blaming the other and focused on the changes we individually needed to make; completely change our relationship.
  3. We had a skilled, experienced couples therapist to help us navigate those growth areas when we got stuck; both individually and as a couple. We would also get help again if we needed it.

As Curtis said the work wasn’t and isn’t always easy but it is worth it. That is my other reason for sharing this conversation and for working with couples, I want struggling couples out there to have hope that there is a way forward. If you are reading this and realize you are stuck and need this kind of change, please reach out we can help.

Wishing you all a meaningful Valentines Day.