It almost never fails that when Joella and I are introduced to new people and they find out that we are both Marriage and Family Therapists either one of two lines will follow. Either, “You guys must have the perfect marriage… I bet you never fight.” or “Wow, I bet you guys can really duke it out!” This always highlights for me that we live under the impression that relationships are either “good” or “bad”. That either partners get along, or they don’t.
I believe that this oversimplification is what keeps a lot of couples stuck in a state of continual co-isolation and distress. Couples therapy, the way we see it, often revolves around undoing that oversimplification and helping couples see the vast array of ways that we “couple.” And yes… I’m using couple as a verb!
Joella and I had been considering using the Eight Dates to help couples build some of the principles into their daily lives. But over time, we’ve developed a personal and professional value that we don’t ask clients to do things that we wouldn’t do ourselves. So we’ve decided to do the series first, blog some of our reflections on the experience. We believe that it is certainly worth purchasing the book, so we will refrain from getting too in depth regarding the specific exercises and keep it to a summary of our own experience.
Week one required about 37 pages of reading on the introductory principles behind the work. This primer is very helpful and sets the tone for the rest of the book. Like a good therapist, it explains why it is important to do the work, and fleshes out the “how” on what it actually looks like to incorporate these practices and teaches some basic communication skills. Once you complete the intro, you move on to the Chapter One that outlines the theme of the first week’s date, which is “Trust and Commitment”.
The most important thing that I took away from the first week’s Trust and Commitment Topic was that creating the habit of going on dates is a practical way to incorporate the practice of commitment and trust. In order to even go on a date, you have to block out time on the calendar in order to prioritize your relationship, you have to select a location, you prepare yourself and then you show up. Any guesses what gets built when you repeatedly create time and space for someone, intentionally prepare and actually show up? It’s simple… Trust!
This date gave us an opportunity to review the ways that we had learned about the meaning of commitment and trust from our families-of-origin, from our education and from our life experience. When you create space to review things like that, you have the opportunity to ask yourselves the question, “So we learned it that way… is that working for us now? Is that the way we want to keep doing it?”
The first date also touches on a theme that we’ve been highlighting from the very first days of our clinical training and continue to say over and over again in session after session. Commitment is more than the words you say at a ceremony. Commitment is something that you make choices about every day. Effective commitment is the process of choosing your partner every day… choosing the life that you build together.
As Gottman, Gottman, Abrams and Abrams (2018) said in the first chapter,
“We choose it even when we are tired and overworked and stressed out. We choose it no matter what attractive person crosses our path. We choose it every time our partner makes a bid for our attention and we put down our book, or look away from the television or up from our smartphone…to acknowledge their importance in our life.”
If I had to choose a single thing to frame from this chapter it would be the previous quote. If we were unable to choose commitment on a daily basis, regardless of circumstances, it would be very difficult, if not downright impossible to build trust, or put together any of the pieces of the relationship puzzle that the rest of the Eight Dates book covers.
Even as an experienced couples therapist, I still enjoy being reminded that many of the events and dynamics that seem to perplex us in relationships can be traced back to choices that we make on a daily basis. Holding on to this perspective shift really puts us in the driver’s seat in our own lives and relationships.
Speaking of driver’s seats… Next week, in the disagreement chapter, I get to learn how to take ownership of the fact that I drive way too slowly and that can be stressful for my partner 😉
See you all next week!