GTPulse: Matters Of The Heart, How To Make It Last (Or Not)
Valentine’s Day is a strange ‘holiday’ in that depending on your relationship status it’s either just another day or a hotbed of nerves, anticipation, romantic gestures and expectations. Whether you’re eagerly celebrating with a new beau or comfortably celebrating in your seasoned relationship, we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day with hopes that the relationship will end (and if you do you have other problems). In Loveland everything is beautiful and perfect with no end in sight. In reality, things fall apart. Like Alex Borstein said, “If you believe in romance and if you believe in marriage, you also have to believe in divorce.” Dating ends with either a breakup or with marriage, and marriages end in either death or divorce. Morbidness aside, there are steps at every stage of a relationship to make your love last. Traverse City divorce lawyer Lori Schmeltzer, and Traverse City family and marriage counselor Caren
Field has some friendly advice on how people can get the most out of their romantic unions before throwing in the towel. Ah, romance.
“Everyone has their own set of circumstances in their life when they come to me. Sometimes people will come to me and something dramatic has happened where they’re ready to file [for divorce], other times people will come to me and they’re thinking about it. Nothing major is going on, it’s just been a slow degeneration of the relationship and they’re trying to get some information. If I get the sense that they’re really not committed to the process just yet, I will refer them to a counselor,” Lori said.
Like Dante’s Inferno, there are levels to love. Love is built, with the first ring being all about getting to know each other and trying to be the best version of yourself for that person. Caren said that this honeymoon phase of a new relationship is where we need to be open about expectations and deal breakers. For many, this is where we least want to bring up anything that could damage the delicate structure of a newly forming bond. But failing to communicate these things early on creates an unstable foundation that can cause issues down the road.
“Find out all the deal-breakers as soon as you can, before feelings get involved. If you have a deal-breaker and you waited six months in to find out because you were too chicken to ask, then you find out they do this thing you don’t like and you’re asking yourself, ‘why didn’t I ask about this sooner?’” Caren said.
Why don’t we ask sooner? Human instinct. Caren said that a lot of relationship problems can be drawn back to self-preservation. Our instinct is to protect ourselves, and expressing what we want to a romantic partner puts us in a position of vulnerability with them. When couples come to Caren she often finds that expectations weren’t communicated early on. Or, if they were communicated, one party thought that the other would eventually change. When we harbor expectations without communicating them, it usually manifests itself poorly.
“Valentine’s Day is a perfect day for how we test people. You might have it in your head, ‘If I had it all my way, I’d have a card with a nice handwritten note inside, and a flower and certain kinds of chocolate, and I want him to pick me up at my door.’ You have all these expectations of how it’s going to be perfect, but you don’t bother telling the other person.”
Expectations not being communicated isn’t just a pitfall for new lovers. Caren sees couples who have been together for a few years that have found themselves stuck in a downturn and struggle to get out of it.
“I give you a dirty look and you’re annoyed with me so now you’re using a tone with me, so now I’m going to raise my voice at you. It’s just going to keep getting worse and worse and worse. Downward spiral. The object is to turn that spiral around.”
Caren has these couples play a game where they talk about what would happen if they had everything their way.
“For instance, If I Had It All My Way, what would happen on Valentine’s Day is that you would buy me one white rose and you would take me out to Red Ginger, and hold my hand while we were walking across the street. Whatever it is you’re hoping and expecting, and then let the person know. It doesn’t matter what you’re asking for, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get it, but it gives the other person a picture of what you want.”
Not every couple Caren sees is in a fiery, relationship hell careening towards ruin. Every once in awhile she gets an older, established couple that has no plans to divorce but they’ve found that they’re stuck in a rut of daily life monotony that has colored the relationship dull over the years. For those couples, Caren gives similar advice, but for different reasons.
“Those people are luckier than the people that are in a downward spiral. If I Had It All My Way, is a way to turn that plateau into an upward spiral. We have to fight our instinct of, don’t ask, don’t tell and be willing to take a risk.”
However, what wasn’t meant to be isn’t fixable. All the relationship counseling in the world won’t mend two people just plain not being compatible together. For those who are confident in their decision to call it quits, Lori says that the more a couple can agree, the cheaper a divorce will be.
“Unfortunately those cases are rare. People have personal opinions on how they think the case should go.”
Lori’s advice for couples going tentatively towards marriage?
“A prenup is a great way to get everyone on the same page, and it helps people understand what a divorce would look like, should they want to do that, and also helps them consider more if marriage is something they really want.”