I was feeling a little blue on Valentine’s Day – or maybe it was more gray – like the dreary sky outside. I was feeling a little sad, a little down, a little “butt-hurt“ as they say, about nothing in particular really, just a feeling of loneliness, feeling a little devalued, and unseen. Again, no one had done anything wrong to me – it was just an internal experience that colored my mood and my day.

I began thinking about old familiar experiences like this – like sometimes in my family growing up when my parents argued relentlessly; or sometimes throughout various stages of my adulthood when I have felt particularly doubtful; and sometimes since Covid, when overwhelmed.

I realized my internal state was affecting my interactions with people I love. Feeling a little ‘less-than’ made me more sensitive, a little more easily hurt, and more inclined to respond with distance, rather than connecting like I really wanted to. I was a little aloof, so I wouldn’t cry; a little more quiet so I wouldn’t have to defend myself, or so I could stay invisibly safe and brooding, and not risk rejection. I noticed I was putting a little more blame on my partner for how I was feeling and not being the onus of change I wanted to see. I was reminded about how a simple mood fluctuation, or series of teeny weeny disappointments, could have so much impact – usually negative – on the goings on of a relationship, and can easily get out of control, and create a downward spiral.

I was also working on a paper to describe how to get the most out of couples therapy (which as I was writing, I realized the title could be changed to “How to get the most out of your couple relationship“ or “out of your relationship with yourself about your couple relationship – whether or not you have a couple relationship”).

I went back-and-forth about my own long-term relationship (I first fell in love with my husband 41 years ago today) – thinking of what I’ve learned, how I’ve grown, how good we can be together, how much he’s grown, what we’ve shared, future plans, how different our love and life together is now from those early days, what we’ve seen each other through, the rocky times when I didn’t think we would make it more than a handful of years, and how sometimes even now, we slip and are not our best selves (speaking for myself really). I know of and have experienced how painful it can be to feel lonely in your relationship, or to lose hope about how to make it better.

All of that led me to want to write a valentine letter to my couples…

 

Dear Couples:

Thank you so much for having the courage to work with me. For hanging in there, even when I don’t support your evidence that your partner is the only one in the wrong. Thank you for all of the times you’ve been vulnerable, open hearted, even tearful as you talk about a recent injury or disappointment.

Thank you for following the guided exercises I give you, even though at first they might seem a little forced or an artificial way of talking to your partner, but allowing them to help build a scaffolding for future dialogs. Thank you for ultimately speaking your truth to one another, even when afraid of the reaction you might get. And thank you for receiving your partner’s truth as best you can, even when it might hurt to hear.

Thank you for facing each other and describing what’s important to you, or speaking honestly from two different parts of yourself. I appreciate the way you put uncomfortable feelings into words or tender touches. Thank you for being willing to consider the traumas or dramas that have impacted you and the way you relate to your partner, and for trying to build your own sense of curiosity.

Thank you for your efforts to not blame and not personalize – even though that is SO VERY HARD to do consistently. I admire how you’ve acknowledged your own mistakes and try to be accountable for them.

Thank you for meeting with me, even though you might have children around you needing your attention, or have to be in your car, or have pressing work demands on your time. Or our Internet connection might be unstable.

I know how hard it is to do all the things you’re trying to do, to make your relationships better. And I know how easy it is to get pulled off track. I am so gratified and heart warmed when you trust me to be your guide – even when I don’t have a perfect relationship myself, or know all the answers for yours.

The other night I was so moved when I was talking to a couple, who have fought over lots of things, where the mom was tearful and feeling overwhelmed and lonely at all she needed to do still to arrange for her children’s special needs, and instead of getting mad or rolling his eyes or just not listening to her vulnerability, her husband listened deeply to her and with tears in his eyes acknowledged that he felt bad for not having done his part sooner, and then indicated he doesn’t want anyone in his family to feel alone, especially his wife. I had tears in my eyes too, to witness both of their courage and tenderness, as they risked having a different kind of conversation in my presence than what they’re used to.

Thank you Dear Couples, for profoundly impacting me with your bravery and for allowing me to be present to your ways of healing, forming deeper connections with one another, and creating better relationships.

Thank you Dear Couples, even for the times that you have uncontrollable arguments in front of me, and maybe can’t reflect upon them until later. Thank you for reminding me how hard and real life this work is.

Thank you Dear Couples, who view your couples therapy as being an important ongoing part of your self and relationship care that you’ve incorporated into your values, and that you can’t see going without.

Thank you Dear Couples of Color, who have been open in addressing the intergenerational trauma and racial injustice that you have experienced and are open to trying to dismantle the negative effects of it in your daily life together. You give me hope, that together we can make the world a better place for all.

And for those of you I don’t see in couples therapy, thank you so much for bringing your couple relationship experiences (or longings for them) to me. I totally believe that developing a stronger ‘I’ is the best way to create a stronger ‘We’.

This is my valentine to you, Dear Couples. I so appreciate you in my life and am forever grateful for the lessons we learn together.

If you or someone you love is struggling in your relationship and would like help to make it better, please contact me for a couples therapy appointment.

Take good care.