“I’m so afraid of going back to our old relationship,” Lynn said cautiously. “We’ve learned so much in our counseling, but is it going to last. We’ve had you watching us, instructing us. What’s going to happen when we leave?”
Truth be told, it probably was not going to last, if by lasting we mean that all the tools she and her boyfriend, Dan, had learned and practiced would flow as smoothly when they were back in their world as they did in front of us.
My associate and myself had spent several sessions watching Lynn and Dan, a couple who had dated for two years. During our sessions we had noticed the nuances that separated them. We had seen Dan’s feisty attitude when feeling threatened, his defensiveness that pushed Lynn away. We had seen Lynn retreat emotionally when she felt hurt, instead of holding firm to her boundaries. Each time we had gently brought them back into the work of therapy. What would they do when we weren’t there to guide the process?
When a couple has spent years interacting in a manner that created dysfunction, when they had faced the specter of separation, only to pull things back from the brink of disaster on numerous occasions, thoughts of future failure can be crippling.
“You two have formed a dance that is entrenched,” I said. “You can’t expect it to go away in a short time.”
“I can’t stand the thought of going back where we came from,” Lynn reiterated. Her anxiety was palpable. “Can you reassure us that we won’t go there again?”
Lynn fidgeted on the sofa, tears welling up inside. Dan watched, undoubtedly struggling with how to comfort her. But, there was little he could do.
“It is perfectly natural to want reassurance, Lynn,” I said. “You’ve been traumatized by the fighting, the rejection, the abandonment you’ve experienced. You two have caused damage, and it will take even more work to ensure that you don’t hurt each other in the old ways again.”
We then shared with Dan and Lynn what every couple must recognize and rehearse. These are steps every couple must take to ensure that their relationship stays strong and vibrant.
First, understand that entropy happens. In other words, any new learning will deteriorate to some degree without consistent practice. When couples move back into the stresses and strains of daily life, they often forget some of what they learned. Expect some loss of ground gained. Don’t be disillusioned or discouraged about this.
Second, because of this, couples must be intentional about continuing to grow. This involves setting aside time and space to review agreements made, practicing the new tools learned in the counseling process or learned from Scripture, sermons or other readings. Growth requires deliberately choosing to stretch in healthy ways.
Third, remain accountable for growth. Couples must hold each other accountable to keep agreements made. Without accountability, even greater entropy is likely to occur. Gently reminding each other of agreements made will ensure ongoing growth. Noticing old patterns settling in, and learn to reset, utilizing the new tools.
Scripture tells us, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speech truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25)
Fourth, stay involved with a professional. For as much as we are determined to continue growing, we often cannot do so on our own. We need mentors, guides, pastors and therapists to ensure we maintain our course. Don’t be shy about reaching out for help, asking others to hold us accountable for personal growth.
Finally, celebrate positive growth. Each of us needs to be championed. We need our positive efforts recognized. Catch your mate doing things right and praise them for it. They will be much more likely to repeat these positive steps of growth.
Dr. Hawkins and his team of therapists assist individuals and couples to resolve emotional baggage and prepare for dating and love with their Readiness for Love Personal Intensive. Contact our staff at 360-490-5446 for more information.