This week, a client told me that she was tired of fooling all of her friends into thinking that their marriage was great when felt so strongly that it was not. She was tired of hearing the same observations:
"Oh, you guys are so in love..."
"I wish my marriage could be more like yours."
From the frustrated look on her face when she told me this - a look I've seen on many faces just like hers as they've lamented over something similar - it was clear that she did not share her friends' perspectives.
Nobody sees the real us.
When relationships feel bad, every negative nook and cranny becomes super exaggerated. That little tic that only used to bother you a little now sounds more like your home fire alarms screaming at you at 3:00 in the morning.
The fact that he comes home later than usual on a Tuesday evening is just another way that he’s telling he doesn’t care about you. Her plea that you come home earlier is evidence that she's trying to control you.
Of course, all of this is hidden from a very carefully manicured social world, where we try to present our shiniest and polished selves.
I've heard this complaint so many times - that very few people see the real us, and that everyone else is happier than we are - that until this week, I just filed it away as another sign of a relationship in trouble.
Have you forgotten your own strength?
That was before this week, when this couple's connection seemed to hint at some serious growth. So I was surprised to hear this complaint from a pair who seemed to be connecting in a way I hadn’t seen in some time.
They were laughing together.
They were touching each other.
They were close.
At first, I started to question my own judgment. Was I missing something? But I feel pretty confident in my judgment of where couples are. I’ve got good relationship radar.
If my judgment wasn’t off, it had to be something else. I started to wonder if maybe this couple’s friends weren’t on to something.
What if these friends saw something that this couple did not? Usually, partners in distressed relationships assume that it is their friends who aren’t seeing the real them.
But what if these spouses weren’t seeing the real them?
What if it was the couple that was blind to their own strength.
I take that to mean that change is possible where there is still a chance. Sometimes that means challenging my clients’ perspectives about how bad their relationship is.
When I meet with a couple, I’m always on the hunt for little pockets of resilience: places in a relationship where love still grows like moss under shade.
I’m still surprised when my couples are surprised to hear it. How do they not see it? Then I remember that a relationship in distress feels like a living hell. It’s hard to see water when you’re in a desert.
If you’re in a relationship or marriage that feels like its in trouble – if you doubt your friends’ envy of your marriage – maybe you should stop to consider what they see that you won’t instead of assuming they you know something they don’t.