Should you make-up or break-up? PAIRS CEO Seth Eisenberg shares some of the typical statements he hears from people on the brink of divorce along with answers from the trenches of marriage education.
by SETH EISENBERG
Callers from around the country dialed-in to Your Time with Kim Iverson tonight with relationship questions. Since we weren’t able to get to all the callers during the show, here are some of the frequently asked questions, comments, and responses to people who ask, “Should I make-up or break-up?”
1. I can never forgive you.
Human beings are works in progress. While we make many great decisions, sometimes we make bad ones, especially when we’re in pain, not getting our needs met, or feeling hopeless, afraid, or desperate. Learning to accept yourself is a giant leap towards having compassion and empathy for other people. While each person has to make their own decisions about whether or not to forgive those we feel have wronged, hurt, disappointed, or betrayed us, the process of choosing to let go of grudges and the choice to forgive can be a very healing, empowering, adult experience.
2. I can’t talk to you.
They say you can tell the married couples in a restaurant by looking for the people who aren’t talking to each other. It didn’t start that way and doesn’t have to stay that way. Confiding is the lifeblood of intimacy. With good will and openness to learning, couples in any stage of relationship can learn skills that make it safe to confide without fear of judgment, blame, or criticism. Sometimes that means first releasing pent-up emotions with Emptying the Emotional Jug. It also requires recognizing the price we pay for losing the ability to talk and listen to each other – whether that’s with our children, spouse, or others important in our lives. Many people bring behaviors that help them succeed (or survive) at work into their homes and families. Often what’s needed is the opposite. Relationship and marriage education classes help couples learn to talk and listen to each other in ways that make it safe and natural to confide.
3. I just don’t love you anymore.
Love has its own logic. Feelings of love wax and wane. It’s natural to be attracted to what we anticipate will be a source of pleasure and to find all kinds of creative ways to avoid what we expect will be painful. The work of the relationship is to stay a pleasure in each others’ lives. That changes during different periods, chapters and circumstances. Learning to create a positive balance in their relationship “Love Bank” helps create an environment where feelings of love can thrive.
4. I never really loved you.
For a long time, marriage was mostly about security, stability and raising children. Today, marriages are more often based on love and intimacy. The rate of marital and family breakdown increased as generations of men found themselves ill-prepared for the new rules of love relationships, often behaving as their fathers and their fathers before them only to discover their wives weren’t happy, satisfied, or committed to staying in relationships in which they didn’t feel loved, cherished and fulfilled. And in many cases, with the resources to leave, they did. Evidence-based marriage education classes that teach emotional literacy offer a road map to the course of true love.
5. I’ll never be happy in this relationship.
The people we’re closest to are often the mirrors through which we see and experience ourselves; the witnesses to our lives. It’s not unusual to go through periods of self-doubt, contemplation, confusion, even turmoil and frustration as we navigate the transitions that are a natural part of living. It may be easiest to blame the people in our lives for periods of unhappiness. Leading marriage education programs teach participants to better understand emotions in themselves and others, including a deeper understanding of what may be the cause of unhappiness. Too often, well-intentioned friends and counselors tell us to treat the symptoms of unhappiness instead of getting to the heart of the situation. Unhappiness typically comes from not getting our needs met, including our need for bonding (the combination of emotional openness and physical closeness with another person). Once couples learn to create an environment in which they can meet each others’ needs for bonding, including confiding, releasing negative emotions, dealing with past hurts and disappointments, negotiating differences, and creating a positive balance in their “Love Banks,” happiness and feelings of love generally flourish.
6. I’m in love with someone else.
Feelings of love develop as a response to the anticipation of pleasure. It’s normal to feel love for the people who are a pleasure in our lives and confuse fireworks we may feel as our body chemistry reacts to those experiences with “being in love.” Certainly, those feelings can eventually lead to true love, although so can creating an environment in which we have similar experiences within our existing relationships. It’s often easiest to be misled by the feelings we have connected to interactions with people who are only remotely and minimally connected to our lives versus those with whom we share nearly the entire field of our lives. Consider how easy it is to be a pleasure to someone when we have no expectations, obligations or responsibilities opposed to those with whom our lives are so intertwined that the slightest criticism or disappointment can leave us feeling intense sadness or anger. Relationship skills training is a chance to discover what’s possible when you create an environment that encourages connection, compassion, empathy, authenticity, and confiding within a committed relationship. Most often, couples discover feelings of love beyond what they may have ever imagined possible. For those who choose to end their relationship, they’re generally able to do so with deeper understanding of what went wrong, empathy for all involved, better opportunities to effectively co-parent, and avoid finding themselves in a similar situation again with another partner.
7. I’m so angry at you.
It’s perfectly normal to get angry, sad, or disappointed and no surprise that emotions are most intense in our closest relationships. Negative emotions are like the waves of the ocean that lose their energy as they dissolve upon the shore. We can spend our entire lives trying to keep those waves from breaking – struggling to control, manage, or deny our feelings — depriving ourselves of countless experiences and opportunities to feel love, joy, tenderness, and relief. Learning to expand emotional intelligence, including a safe process for confiding the full range of feelings and being comfortable with emotional expression from others makes it possible to release pent-up feelings of anger, fear, disappointment, and sadness. Afterward, there’s much more room for love.
8. It’s too late.
As long as we’re alive, it’s never too late. Couples in any stage of life can learn skills to create and sustain happy, healthy, loving relationships. Whether or not to sustain a relationship is one of the most important, personal decisions of a lifetime. When children are involved, the impact on them is both particularly significant and lasting. Often, especially for couples in crisis, both partners are not open to learning at the same moment. Regularly, one partner will attend a marriage or relationship education class on their own, seeking to learn and discover what’s possible for themselves, even when the other is unable or unwilling to attend. Nearly a third of the people in a typical PAIRS class participate as individuals, either attending without their partner or because they’re not in a relationship. While our basic character and nature may be determined long before adulthood, behaviors are not. We learn to behave certain ways as a result of our life experiences. Sometimes the very behaviors that enabled us to survive in one environment are sabotaging us in another. Programs like PAIRS are fun way to learn skills that help nurture and sustain loving relationships, to try them on, and discover what’s possible. Once you’ve had a chance to learn, practice, and integrate the skills into your life, you’ll have a better idea of the real potential for experiencing love, happiness and fulfillment in your closest relationships.
9. There’s no chemistry.
As couples learn to become more emotionally open, expressive, and comfortable asking for what they want, being a pleasure to each other, and dealing constructively with differences, physical intimacy also improves. Research has consistently shown significant improvements in sensual and sexual satisfaction as couples deepen empathy, compassion, expand their ability to confide in each other, and learn to resolve typical conflicts. While the impact of chemistry is experienced in different ways at different stages of life and relationship, the depth of connection and pleasure many couples are able to bring to their lives as a result of relationship skills training is often far beyond what is typically referred to as good chemistry. They discover passion.
10. You betrayed me.
Like air, food, water, and shelter, bonding – the unique combination of emotional openness and physical closeness with another human being — is a biologically-based need for humans from our first breath to our last. Consistently meeting each others’ needs for bonding may be the most important work of a relationship. It is regularly the foundation of successful relationships. Relationships become vulnerable when couples are not meeting each others’ needs for bonding. When a person is starving for connection – emotionally or physically – they can make decisions that contradict their most deeply held values, similar to the impact of being deprived of other human needs such as air, food, water or shelter. As participants in PAIRS begin to understand the Relationship Road Map and symptoms of bonding deprivation, they often experience a paradigm shift in how they interpret decisions that may have led to behaviors that betrayed their values and vows. Many choose to forgive themselves and their partners for – more often than not – the incompetence that led them to lose each other along with a promise to invest time and energy daily to stay closely connected, open to listening, confiding, sharing, and bonding as the best protection for their marriage vows and most cherished wishes, hopes and dreams.
11. You’re not the person I married.
People change. Our experiences — positive and negative — the stories we tell ourselves about those experiences, and the decisions we make show up in our behaviors, attitudes and beliefs. Life itself is a series of opportunities to define and know ourselves through our responses to the circumstances we encounter and the choices we make. Human behavior is often deeply connected to how we interpret the motivations of others, how we feel about ourselves at a given time, and the choices of which we’re aware. When people are scared, sad, angry, feeling guilty, insecure, or going through a period of low self-esteem, those feelings show up in how they behave, especially towards those they most love. When couples and families learn to create an environment in which it’s safe to be vulnerable, learn to respond to each other with empathy, authenticity, and compassion, they have the best chance of bringing out the parts of each other they most enjoy. PAIRS classes offer a road map to creating an atmosphere that is safe for the best parts of people to shine.
12. You’ll never change.
At any moment in our lives, we can change our behaviors. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or instant. Changing behaviors begins with recognizing what you want to change (including seeing and embracing the benefits), changing it, and then sustaining the change under stress and over time. Participants in extended PAIRS classes — including partners, fellow classmates, and instructors — help provide the supportive environment necessary to make and sustain the changes we choose.
Seth Eisenberg is President/CEO of PAIRS Foundation, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.