Part 6 in the What love is all about series
One thing love is all about for sure is having wonderful things to look forward to together. “Yeah, sure, I had things to look forward to before I met you, but now, with you—wow!—I have so many more, much lovelier things to look forward to.”
They aren’t always what you think they’ll be. For us, for a long time it was our Thursday mornings. Like most couples, there never was a time when the kids weren’t around. But since it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, and since we had some freedom in making our own schedules—though it seemed like I was always working—we invented “Thursday Morning.” It was sacred. Off to school the kids would go. Back to bed we’d go, till noon or even 1. To do...whatever! Talk, make love, hang out, just be with each other. It never got old.
So these things you look forward to at the beginning, they happen! They’re in your photo albums! And in your memories: just ask yourselves, What were our best times together? I hope that for you there were lots of them.
It’s just that for many of us, sometimes the things we share as a couple become fewer and fewer.
It’s one of those things that dawns on you slowly and then hits you like a car crash. You and your partner have nothing in common. You’ve drifted apart. You live separate lives together. You’re roommates, not lovers.
Specifically? Oh, you know. You almost never watch the same shows. You almost never do things together. The only things you have to talk about are the kids, the house, your relatives and friends, and money stuff. If family life were a business, your conversations would be considered business meetings.
And your social life is with friends or family, never just the two of you.
Does that about capture it? At least the flavor of it?
For most people in a relationship, that’s what’s going on, and it’s both sad and scary. Where do we go from here? We’re doomed!
So let me share a secret with you that most good therapists know about. People define their problems in ways that make them seem unsolvable. Any labeling does that. And so does any statement of a problem that makes it sound as though it’s a final state. “We have nothing in common.” Done! Over!
But good therapists know that 90% of the time when people say, “I can’t find my car keys, and I’ve looked everywhere. They’ve just disappeared,” what’s really happened isn’t that they’ve disappeared, and you haven’t looked everywhere everywhere, and pretty soon you will find your car keys.
Doom statements are rarely true.
And so “we have nothing in common” is really just a place you’ve gotten yourselves into and that you can get yourselves out of.
In all of our fifteen (15!) books, we’ve based what we’ve offered on what we call success-based research: what do ordinary people do to solve the problems that other ordinary people have trouble with?
In this case, what do ordinary people do who are successful at the whole not drifting apart thing? What they do is they understand what the problem is. And the problem is family life. You come together as a couple because there are at least some things you have in common. Enough for you to decide to be a couple.
And then most of the other choices you make will tend to drive you apart.
Children and housing, mostly. And the need for money to keep the show running. And here’s the thing. It will seem as though that IS what you have in common, this family business. All the work for money and work to keep your kids floating along. It certainly gives you endless things to talk about. Just the way it would if you had an elephant and a couple of monkeys move in with you.
But where does the “in common” part really come in? Your kids have something in common with each other, too, and that’s to grow up and leave home, leaving you behind. The sooner the better. That’s what adolescence is all about, the impulse to do that.
So what couples who are successful with all of this do is they understand that family life is a machine for destroying any sense that the two of you have anything in common except a family life that has a very short expiration date. And so
THEY WORK AT FINDING THINGS TO DO AND SHARE TO REPLACE WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO LOSE ALL TOO SOON.
That’s it. That's all.
And if you haven’t done it yet, so what!?! Do it now! Rather than moan about how you have nothing in common, acknowledge that you haven’t done the work of finding things in common, and get busy finding them.
Let this be your guiding principle:
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO BE SURPRISED BY LIFE.
I get that this may seem impossible if—pardon the stereotypes—one of you has only just watched sports on TV and gone golfing on weekends, while the other has gone shopping with friends and been busy with some craft hobby. Total strangers, right?
But are you really totally committed to that being all you are? That’s the key question. Couples who are successful at finding things in common all say the same thing. It’s a version of “I never imagined I’d do X but now that I’m doing it—that we’re doing it together—I’m having a blast and it really has brought us together.”
What is that X? How the hell should I know!
How do you find it for yourselves? That I DO know. You try things. You guess. You explore paths you think you might not like, might not be good at, might find terrifying. Over and over, men and women said, “I thought I’d hate X,” or “I thought I’d be terrible at X,” or “I was terrified of X,” and it turned out to be something quite different.
What’s more, over and over people said, “I thought HE [or SHE] would hate or be terrible at or terrified of X, and it turned out to be the opposite.”
Lots of these experiments will fail. But it’s a wide, wide world out there. You try what doesn’t work until you find what does work.
Think of it as an adventure.
Note! Just to be clear, the first picture here isn't my husband and me in bed. It's Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seaberg in a scene from the classic film Breathless.