June 24, 2014
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September 16, 2012
“When it comes to love-to romantic love and sexual love and married love-we have to learn again, with difficulty, how to let go of all kinds of expectations.” Judith Viorst in Necessary Losses
My work with couples is paradoxically the most rewarding and the most difficult work I do. Nothing can bring us closer to heaven or hell than our marriages or committed relationships! Anthropologist Malinowski said, “Marriage presents one of the most difficult personal problems in human life; the most emotional as well as the most romantic of all human dreams has to be consolidated into an ordinary working relationship.”
Why is it that we have so much trouble doing just that-consolidating romance and daily life? Why can’t we relinquish our fantasies and our expectations when we know, deep down, that a stable (don’t read boring into that word!) partnership will require sacrifice and compromise? We hang on, insisting on our way. We hang on by our fingernails, not wanting to let go of our old ways in order to re-vision how things might be.
We do live in a culture that tells us repeatedly that we can have whatever we want. We are told in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways that we can have our cake and eat it, too. Many couples come into my office believing this, either consciously or unconsciously. But it is not true, especially in the world of relationships.
In all of adult life, there are necessary losses. We make choices that should close one door and open another. For example, if we choose to enter into a monogamous sexual relationship, the necessary loss is that we will now have only one partner. We give up the choice to see what sex will be like with other people. We give up endless variety. We give up always having it our way. What we get is the potential for endless depth. For comfort and safety. For acceptance when we are not at our best. We get the opportunity to give and sacrifice and to receive and accept.
When we have children, there are necessary losses that are inevitable if we are to make the adjustment to parenting successfully. We lose the freedom to go where we want, when we want. Someone else’s needs are now more important than my own. Perhaps I can’t make it to the gym five days a week now. Only two. Or my expendable income is no longer all mine to spend on toys of my desire but gets taken up in the price of doctor’s appointments, baby food, and diapers. Even more of “my money” goes to the care and future of the children with each year. My sleep schedule is no longer in my control and my friends may not see as much of me as they use to, at least for a while. We accept these losses because we believe that what will come in the place of the loss is greater than our minds could have even imagined.
My husband and I got married in August, 1979. As we approached our first Christmas season, we decided over dinner one night that we would each fly home to our families for Christmas, separately, and then come back together for New Year’s Eve. We thought it was a spectacular plan and I was excited when I called my mother to tell her when I would be coming home, without my husband.
“You know you are welcome home, Amy. But not without Nick. Not this Christmas. You are married now. You have to make hard choices.”
What? Wow. I can’t have my cake and eat it, too. I can’t come home without my husband for Christmas and then see him for New Year’s Eve?
“I know this is hard,” she said. But my mother stuck to her guns. “You will have to get use to taking turns, to being with his family sometimes and with ours sometimes.” I hung up and cried. How would we make this decision? Who would lose? What would it be like for either of us not to be home? I don’t remember how we decided but I ended up at his family’s house for our first married Christmas holidays. The carefully wrapped package I sent to NY for my family to open…to represent my presence when I couldn’t be there…did not arrive in time. That upset me even more. Another loss.
Today I still appreciate my mother’s wisdom. She knew there had to be a necessary loss. A change of expectations. A new normal. It was as it needed to be. What I gained that Christmas was the wonder of another loving family engaged in different but joyous rituals. I gained a deeper level of intimacy with my husband. I gained the respect of my in-laws and the compassion they extended to me on Christmas day when I cried over the missing package. I lost a piece of my childhood and gained an empowered way of being an adult.
I will write again about other ways we experience necessary losses. What necessary losses are you dealing with in your life? I’d love to hear from you.
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