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By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and have lived in and around Palo Alto since 1969. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in Silicon Valley for 15 years before becoming a therapist. My background i...  (More)

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Marriage Interview 11: "Normal" Engineer Couple

Uploaded: Sep 24, 2015
George and Victoria met in 1990 through a matching service. But for some reason George didn't return Victoria's call for a few weeks, and when he finally did, she was literally on a date with an another man.

Victoria was excited that George called, though, because on paper they were a "perfect match."

George and Victoria are an unusual couple in that they were very upfront on the first date: they wanted to know what each others' intentions were i.e., did each want to marry, did they share the same values, and they discussed what their make it or break it issues were. Neither wanted to waste time investing in a relationship only to later find out they were headed in different directions.

George and Victoria were married in 1996. They have key areas that they are well aligned on that may be complicated for many couples: money, sex, and vacations. Money and sex are two of the three top areas many couples struggle with (the third being power). While their sense around money is not perfectly in tune (and whose is?), it is close enough. They have good communication around sexuality and are able to talk about desires, fantasies, experiments, and make each other come with words. They understand they will age, have sagging skin, and still desire each other. They are flexible with vacations and adaptable to situations as they arise. This communication, flexibility and spontaneity create a very strong foundation for them overall.

Yet underneath their compatibility was a sense of frustration with each other. And after listening to them further, it's clear that many of their frustrations could be addressed fairly quickly in couples counseling, and as long as they do the work, things would improve significantly.

Both George and Victoria work in high-tech companies that require detailed work; yet George analyzes things more; too much for Victoria at times. She can experience George's analytical skills as turning the table on her issues when she brings them up. She ends up feeling unheard and mentally beat up.

Over time, a partner may stop raising concerns. I see this dynamic often with couples.

Sometimes being smart doesn't actually help interpersonally! Victoria just wants George to listen. Not fix. She'll ask for solutions if she wants or needs that. Yet she doesn't know how to say that to him.

George says that he wants better for Victoria than she wants for herself. And while that is a good intention, they both might end up happier if he steps back and lets Victoria figure out for herself what she wants and desires.

Another area they struggle with that is so common is that couples spend time discussing (arguing) about the historical accuracy of something that happened instead of talking about how they feel right now, in this moment, about what happened before. You can not change the past, but you can deal with the present feelings to create a future that better meets your needs. George says it's hard to give up diagnosing what happened since he is an engineer and that's what he's trained to do.

One tool I gave them was attunement. To acknowledge what the other says and give empathy (remember, you don't have to agree: you're letting your partner know you heard and that you care).

George says that while Victoria is more social, he does most of the talking in their relationship. That's probably exhausting for both of them in different ways. George repeats himself, trying to get Victoria to acknowledge him. Instead she retreats. He gets frustrated. Victoria could help George by giving attunement: acknowledging him right away; it would soothe him.

We call this the wave/island dynamic. If the wave backs off, the island will stop retreating. Both need to be anchors.

Another area of contention is that Victoria has a hobby that she loves and is passionate about: crafting. She's good at it, and it gives her pleasure. However, during the holidays, it takes up every weekend for a month, and George objects since he likes to do most things together. Victoria prefers some time together, some time doing things alone or with friends, as well as family time.

If George can learn to understand his need for continual contact, and address it so he can increase his capacity for alone time, he will be more content. He also may find other people, even make new friends, or discover activities to fill his time, which may increase his own satisfaction in life. As long as Victoria gives him reassurance and contact in intervals, they will likely both be happier.

Marriages have ups and downs, and George and Victoria's is no different. They do have a lot going for them in that many of the ways they got along when they first met are intact.
And they are still working on the things that are difficult. George says that even when they fight he can still remember why he married her, and that those reasons still exist.

George and Victoria are a "normal" couple with "normal" couple issues.

They are the type of couples that I have great hope for because they have a solid foundation and they are capable of learning tools and skills to communicate better and turn toward a happier day-to-day relationship.

George and Victoria's Tips for Other Couples:

1) Don't fix; just listen. She'll ask for help when she needs it.
2) Have a sense of humor if things don't work out perfectly when you're trying new things (e.g., sex, vacations, etc.).
3) Be willing to accept whatever life throws at you; make the best of it.
4) If there's a topic you can't talk about, understand why that is, and what needs to change so that you can talk about it.
5) Not every issue needs to be resolved.



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