After sharing eight years of romantic partnership, Larry tells Jim that he is no longer “feeling it.” Larry says, “ I do still love you, but the passion has drained away and, to be honest, it wasn’t very strong even at the start.”
The last sentence sends Jim reeling. Larry deprecates the entire history of what they’ve shared. Nonetheless, Jim asks Larry, “Would you come with me to see a couples therapist and help me sort out what’s happened between us?”
Larry agrees to participate in couples therapy but is doubtful about being able to make things better between them. Perhaps, for him, couples work will help him leave Jim on the best terms possible? Or perhaps there is something else that can be explored that might reignite possibilities for a more romantic reconciliation? But what might that be, and what are the chances of such a change?
Jim expresses consternation about how or why they have grown apart.
Larry starts to unpack his experience, emphasizing that he’s always felt emotionally and financially dependent on Jim. For the first time in his adult life—after years of freelancing as a graphic designer and making a modest and precarious living—-a string of award-winning projects have catapulted him into top-dollar remuneration and acclaim.
This ‘new’ version of Larry—the one who feels like a winner—repudiates the notion that he has lived so long within the shadow—and not the spotlight—of his destiny.
The ‘old’ Larry—dependent, needy, lacking in self-confidence—was Jim’s partner. Larry says, “If we fit together then, how can we fit together now?”
I wonder if Larry would be interested in exploring this question, “What prevents you from generating an expectation that Jim, loving you as you were, would only love you more now that you seemingly feel better about yourself? Why would Jim wish to keep you connected to how you had been? What would be in that for him?”
Larry did not dismiss this question out of hand. Had he done so, the conversation could not have continued. The die would have been cast. As it was, he seemed interested in exploring the possibility that his lack of interest in Jim might be related to his own inner dynamics.
Another couple I worked with recently—Aaron and Mindy—had a similar presentation in their first couples session. Aaron said, “Even in the beginning, I had doubts. Things never felt absolutely wonderful.”
Aaron continued, “One thing led to another and I felt that it made sense for us to get married. Maybe it was the right time for me to be part of a permanent couple, and I was willing to put my reservations about it on the shelf.” Aaron rationalizes that what clinched his involvement with Mindy had little to do with Mindy. What does that say about him?
By denigrating his relationship with Mindy on the grounds that it is not absolutely superlative, Aaron repudiates this notion: Love relationships require work. Long-term relationships cannot and do not exist on a rarified ecstatic plane. Even if they are absolutely wonderful, they don’t stay so without partners doing some requisite relationship maintenance.
Did either Larry or Aaron ever hold what I would call a ‘relationship perspective?’ By that I mean a perspective that informed them that the relationship a time had arrived which necessitated that they generate conscious and compassionate care and attention to emotional interchanges between themselves and their respective partners?
Consider these guidelines. Being in a one-sided relationship, if you and your partner are willing, creates opportunities for developing empathy. You have to be looking for them and ready to follow through on their promise. Once a theme of mutuality—seeing eye-to-eye— is established, healing becomes a possibility.
Guideline #1: When one partner feels invisible to the other, it is likely that the feeling is mutual.
Guideline #2: If one partner feels unappreciated, the likelihood is that the feels so too.
Guideline #3: If you feel your partner does not see or hear you clearly, act with confidence and conviction to stem their feelings of invisibility and feeling unseen and unheard.
Guideline #4: In one-sided relationships, gauge potential for positive change by considering the degree of rigidity with which the power imbalance is maintained. The greater the rigidity the less probable break-throughs in repairing trust will be. Often differences between partners are surmountable or not depending not on how far apart the viewpoints are but on how rigidly those viewpoints are held.
How much experience do you have with one-sided love situations? I am interested in hearing from you about your experience if you care to share.
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