Never Bet on a Couple: The Mystery of Relationships

“I don’t care about his words. He says the kids and I are the most important people in the world to him. He says he’s always loved me and will always be here for me. What does it matter? His actions show me he could care less. He’s always late for dinner, spends the weekends with his buddies, and doesn’t answer my texts. What’s the point? Why should I fight for this relationship?” Her husband sits next to her on the couch looking miserable and uncomfortable. He finally blurts out, “She hasn’t let me touch her in months; why would I want to come home?”

This is what the beginning of couple’s counseling often sounds like. As I hear more history I learn these patterns have been occurring for years, they’ve been trying to change their marriage for most of that time, and they both express they would be happier apart from each other. Logically listening to these two I might jump to the conclusion that they should stop fighting for their relationship and start working on an amicable divorce. As a new therapist I might have walked into that trap, only to find myself a few weeks later trying to understand why they are planning a vow renewal ceremony. Now I know better.

As people who know me will attest, I never, never bet on the outcome of a relationship. I learned this from a a clinical supervisor who pointed out the final scene in Sofia Coppola’s film “Lost in Translation.” As the audience we’ve watched these two main characters, played by Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, meet and create an unlikely relationship in the middle of Tokyo. In the final scene they run into each other on a busy street corner and, as they lean in for their final few words, the camera pulls away and we are left wondering what was said. My supervisor explained, “No matter how well you think you know a couple, no matter how long you’ve been working with them or think you understand the dynamics of their interactions, there is still a part of their relationship that will always be unknown to you…and maybe even to them.”

I have learned to hold the facts of a relationship respectfully but lightly and remember there are intangible factors to every relationship that, although invisible, can make or break the relationship. Take some time this week to explore your own intangibles.