The loss was fresh again when we got a divorce. I had lost my best friend and deepest love, even as we clearly still loved one another. Even after years of separation, facing the idea of moving on as a divorced woman was heartbreaking.
You are here because you dream of having a close and connected relationship with your partner. You are at the optimistic beginning, or somewhere in the middle. You feel it in your being that this is the right partner for you. No matter where you are, the one thing that makes you different from other people is your deep and enduring commitment to this relationship. Still, it hasn’t been as easy as you hoped it would be. You knew being in a long-term relationship would be hard. Everyone warned you. But you didn’t realize it would be like this. You expected hard times, but you thought they would be few and far between, not mixed in with every day. You never thought you would be the ones to: Bicker over stupid things. Have a simple “how are you” turn into an argument. Have to schedule time to talk or have sex. Disagree about the basics: money, kids, affection, chores, free time. Feel this disconnected, lonely, and irritated. The truth is, you are looking for a way to cut through the bullshit so you can have the relationship you really want. Hi, I’m Cheri! Like you, I have struggled with the expected and unexpected challenges of loving one person and wanting that love to last. I’m a relationship coach who helps deeply committed couples who struggle with miscommunications, arguing, emotional disconnection, and too many unresolved issues. They believe they chose the right partner but worry that the two of them will never sustain the close, harmonious, and intimate relationship they long for. I teach them to build their relationship through conflict and relationship habits so they can enjoy the love they have for one another. We all grow up in families and get a front row seat to our parents’ marriages. We learned how to get along with others, take care of one another, and what is acceptable. Often, we believe whatever happens there is normal, at least for the first years. I grew up with married parents who loved each other deeply in a community of mostly married couples. I thought getting married is just what people do. My parents loved one another. They were committed to staying together until “death do us part.” And you could tell they meant it. They also had some patterns of getting along that were not very peaceful and did not always bring out the best in one another. They argued about the same things from their honeymoon until my dad died: for over 45 years. And they argued in the same ways. I remember them complaining about these patterns, but I don’t recall ever seeing them do something to really change it. I have countless other examples with aunts and uncles, grandparents, and friends’ parents. They all figured out how to stay together, but they had a lot of ups and downs. Looking back, they seemed to be unhappy or coasting in their relationships much of the time. The message I got was: “Marriage is hard. Learn to live with it.” I grew up thinking marriage was the goal in life. I had other aspirations, but getting married was at the core of it all. So, I married my college sweetheart. We were in love. I felt confident that I had done my research when I married him. After all, we dated for four years. We had lived through some hard events. I knew him and he knew me as well as two people could. I knew what I was getting into. So we did the next thing: we got married. How do I sum up what came next fairly? There was nothing simple about it. The lengthy, gut-wrenching, late night arguments never seemed to resolve anything. We had different visions of our lives that didn’t fit well together, different values we lived by, and the same conflict resolutions style as our parents—keep pushing through an argument until you have pushed each other to the brink. We even tried some couples counseling. That was a joke. She did not have any tools to help us. She thought that having each of us explain how we felt about things would help us work through the problems. We could do that at home without an audience. We needed to learn how to bridge the differences between us! (BTW, most of the couples counseling you see on TV and in movies is a joke, too. (Drives me crazy to watch!)) I have always wondered how things might have turned out if we had worked with a counselor like me…… We lasted for 18 months before it became clear that we were on a bad path. We were bringing out the worst in each other. And we came dangerously close to things getting violently bad. Equally, we could have settled into silence and loneliness. We split up to try and figure out where things went wrong and if it could be salvaged. I spent the next four years committed to figuring it out how to save the relationship. I tried everything I could think of to make it work. And then I tried them again. Of course, these were the same relationship tools I had grown up with. Keep trying the same things—just try harder. Maybe you have tried some of them: Leaving late night long rambling messages pouring out your heart. Orchestrating something you need the other person to do so you can re-engage them. Cheerfully inviting them to do something fun with the false hope of things getting on the right track. Angrily listing their faults so they can take an honest look at what they are doing to hurt you and cut it out. Demanding that they give you what they promised or what you deserve. Having sex with them to remind them of how they feel about you. If you have tried any of these, you may have experienced the same despair as I did. Of course, they didn’t work. I probably looked like a crazy manipulative person. I spent so many nights curled up in a ball crying. I cried in the car so frequently that I wondered what other drivers thought.