She sat there shaking her head. Her eyes were damp with frustration. He shifted in his chair, staring at me while his wife’s questions hung in the silence of the room. “When did I lose you, Gerry? What did I do?”
Sharon and her husband were seven years married, high school sweethearts who, it seemed. fell in love with falling in love more than with each other. They couldn’t know that then, of course, but over the next few years romance morphed into a reality of differences that became battlegrounds. In the process they both were feeling they had lost their “best friend” and were sitting before me, hurting.
Gerry’s stare was heavy with helplessness. I asked him if he heard Sharon’s question. After a moment he said, “I think we lost each other. But I still love you, Shar.”
“What’s that mean?” I asked.
Silence. Sharon wide-eyed with waiting. Gerry sighed and said, “Shar is all I ever wanted, but I feel like I keep coming up short in her eyes, that she’s trying make me into something I just can’t be.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Perfect,” he said, glaring at Sharon. “She’s always criticizing me, telling me how to do this or that, like I’m her kid instead of her husband.”
Sharon cut in. “I love you, too, Gerry. It’s just that I don’t think we know each other. I know I drive you crazy as much as you do me.”
“We’re different, Shar. I always thought we had so much in common but, wow, there’s so much I didn’t know...”
Abruptly I asked both of them, “Do you guys know how to be married?” They looked at each other, lost for an answer. I went on.
“That symbol of marriage, two wedding rings overlapping? It’s the best image I know that says what marriage is. Two people overlapping and bonding. That falling-in-love piece is just the beginning of the love story. The workplace of any marriage is the rest of the circles. Marriage doesn’t mean eclipsing an other or losing yourself in or disappearing into someone else’s life. The question is, ‘Can you live with the differences?’”
Sharon and Gerry looked bewildered, so I went on. “No one can change another person, and ‘living with’ doesn’t mean tolerating but accepting and adapting to one another. Every marriage struggles with that. And in healthy marriages couples learn how to handle the differences and help each other to grow.”
The rest of the session was spent helping both of them name the tough spots in their relationship. After setting up the their next appointment, I said to them as they left, “Love may be blind, but every marriage needs wide-open eyes and honesty to deal with its surprises.”