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It DOESN’T have to be this way

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

Relationships do not have to go bad


President Biden gave a speech last night marking the one-year anniversary of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a remarkable speech for many reasons—empathy high on the list—but one reason the speech stood out for me was its ability to offer truth and hope. It’s easy to offer one of these without the other. But to offer a full measure of both is remarkable. And the truth is that because of the vaccines becoming more and more available, we—and Biden said he needs us, and that we need each other—can realistically hope to end this nightmare in some significant way by Independence Day.

Biden did what the previous holder of his office did not do. He talked about the 527,000 Americans who have died as a result of the pandemic. This is a mark of respect for the dead and empathy for the living, but it is more. At one point, Biden looked backward briefly as if to say, “It didn’t have to be this way.” According to CNN:

"A year ago, we were hit with a virus that was met with silence and spread unchecked, denials for days, weeks, then months," Biden said at one point. "That led to more deaths, more infections, more stress and more loneliness." At another point, Biden pulled out his mask and expressed amazement that it had been turned into some sort of political statement."

Indeed, it DIDN’T have to be this way.

What sad words these are. With a vigorous, unifying, truth-based response to the pandemic, many fewer would have died. A hundred thousand fewer? Two hundred thousand fewer? Three hundred thousand? Who knows? But A LOT!

And by coincidence I was just talking with a patient about this whole “it doesn’t have to be this way” thing, and here’s what I, a child of Holocaust survivors, found myself saying:

Even the Holocaust didn’t have to happen, even with Hitler in the full bloom of his virulent anti-Semitism. He could perfectly well have said to his generals, in 1939, “Hey guys, yes, let’s definitely kill all the Jews, but let’s wait until after we’ve won the war. It won’t kill us to wait! If we don’t kill the Jews now it’ll free up resources to conquer the world! Then, if we want, we can kill everybody!!!

There wouldn’t have even been a need for pity on Hitler’s part. Just a bit of realism, and six million lives would have been saved. It brings me to tears thinking about it.

And it’s the same thing for us in our relationships.

George Orwell said somewhere that we can have a revolution whenever we want. We just have to want it.

But we don’t want it. In our relationships too often we’re not really committed to each other. We’re committed to our fantasy that if we just keep pushing we’ll get our needs met. That the endless warfare of needs versus needs is one that can be won, and won by ME! And if the whole thing blows up, there are other fish in the sea. PLUS we don’t know how else to get our needs met. He said that to me! So I’ve GOT to say this to HIM!

This isn’t realism. It’s a despair as utterly stupid as thinking that because your attempts at making carrot cake never come out, therefore carrot cake can’t be made.

What’s the obstacle in the way of making a love-saving revolution in your relationship? Certainly not getting ahold of our book. Why Couples Fight is only a click or two away.

There are only two obstacles, really.

One is thinking you’re going to have to learn some complicated ritual for how to work through conflict instead of just using the comfortable (though useless) process you’re already used to. But there is NO complicated ritual. There’s just doing stuff you already know how to do.

The other is thinking you won’t be able to be yourselves. You’ll have to be some unnatural, spiffed-up version of yourselves.

Well. It depends on how you define “yourself.” If your agenda is to keep on being the same old you you’ve always been—“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” and “I’m not wrong; it’s the world that’s fucked up!”—well, good luck to you. See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.

But the very definition of a functional person is that it’s someone who, when involved with something that produces bad outcomes, asks herself what she’s doing wrong. “What changes can I make that will make things better here?”

That’s way different, by the way, from her blaming herself. Blame is looking backwards. Blame is about, How did we get here? But problem-solving is about, How do we get out of here?

This is how we save the world, one person or one relationship at a time, if necessary.

When we look at relationships and say, It doesn’t have to be this way, we’re not just talking about misery and divorce. We’re talking about the things we do create that misery and that bring about that divorce. We’re talking about the power moves we make and the power dynamics we participate in. Maybe before we didn’t know what else to do.

But now we do. If you read Why Couples Fight, you’ll understand why you don’t have to fight, not anymore.


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