New love is exciting: it makes everything better. It releases all kinds of powerful hormones in the body that elevate our moods and make it easy to overlook any potentially annoying habits of our new partner.
About twenty years’ ago- as a psychotherapist working at Kaiser Permanente Point Loma – I participated in a training for therapists: “How to Work with Difficult Couples”. During the training, we watched a video of several (heterosexual) couples. These couples were interviewed at the beginning of their relationship and two years’ later.
When the couple was new and so in love, they found each other’s personalities very attractive. One woman said of her husband: “I just love how he plans everything and organizes things.” Her husband said, “It’s so cute how she likes to have a ‘big talk’ anytime we have even the slightest disagreement.”
Two years’ later, here’s the same couple. Wife: “He’s so controlling. He never lets me plan anything.” Husband: “She just can’t let anything go: we have to analyze the hell out of every little disagreement.”
These folks are not unique: In the glow of new love, we often overlook things that could annoy us. In my experience, this typically lasts from three to six months (it happens sooner for some, later for others). As I explain in my book, (“The Gay Man’s Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage”), I call this period: “When the glitter wears off” and you see the person you’ve chosen to be with, warts and all.
When the glitter is gone, it’s not so pretty. Your partner’s annoying habits are too big to ignore and the things that you hoped might just “go away”, haven’t.
What can you do? Here are some things to try:
Be Willing to be Surprised: We think that we know just how our partner would respond in a situation. Sometimes, it takes infidelity or a major life crisis to show us that there is a lot we don’t know about our partner, no matter how long we’ve been together. As a psychotherapist for couples, I enjoy helping couples make a fresh start and deal with “ghosts” from their past.
Slow Down: a lot of time, our worst arguments go so fast that we barely know what we’re feeling and saying. Often, we say such mean things in moments of shock/anger that we wish we could have a “do-over” and do it better. Slowing down difficult discussions can help achieve this. When you feel like you’re about to explode, slow the situation down by calling a “time out” and getting away from each other so both of you can cool down.
Stay focused on the Big Picture: don’t make your partner into a “monster”. It’s very tempting to demonize your partner: it lets you feel superior. It’s a power struggle and I see it a lot in couples I work with. Instead, remember why you’re still with this person: remind yourself of all the loving things they’ve done for you. Recall why you chose them out of all the other people in the world. Remember why you still love them.
Contain your Drama: Sure, it’s cathartic to vent, but pick one friend (two at the most) to share how pissed off you are at your loved one. When other people ask, “How are you two doing?” Give them a polite but general answer, like: “We’re dealing with some things, but we’re hanging in there”. If people pry for more dirt, don’t give it to them. It just makes the situation worse. And what to do with your “friends” who want to hear all the dirt? Realize that they’re not really your friends. Real friends want you to be happy and your relationship to be great. Fake friends don’t.
Want to know more? Check out my book on relationships (https://lifebeyondtherapy.net/mybook/) or give me a call if you’d like to know more about the benefits (and challenges) of couples counseling.
Falling in love is easy; staying in love takes work. Luckily – in most cases – the work is so, so worth it.
Don’t give up; get help.