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A Deep Appreciation for Couple’s Work

It never fails: every time I do relationship work with someone, or two someones, or three someones, etc. I can’t help but hear the echo of that work in my own head – sometimes while it’s happening – about my own relationship.

A bit of backgrounding: I’m a 40-year-old gay man, in a relationship for 7 years now with my partner, and in that time we’ve been very happy with each other.  I’m the more creative, outgoing, insightful type; he’s the more introverted, by-the-book, steady-as-she-goes type.  It works because he’s my rock, and I’m his…muse? Well, maybe that’s not the best description, but regardless, we love each other and take care of each other, and the balance we both desire works itself out over the course of the longer term, which is satisfying for both of us.  We haven’t made getting married a priority for several different reasons, but the conversation seems more relevant these days, and now we’re starting to make plans.

Recently I was working with a couple about to go through a major life change, and they were seeking some counseling to better navigate this change.  I was really enjoying working with this couple; they were invested in the work, they used their time well in session, they even went as far as implementing changes at home on their own – a stellar couple of clients, to be sure. However, at one point we started talking about the fears each one of them has going forward with the relationship, and that was when I started to hear that echo: my partner and I aren’t married, so maybe we’re *also* afraid of moving things forward?

Here’s something you should know about a therapist doing couple’s work: it’s precarious.  Precarious in the sense that the therapist has to navigate two people’s wants and needs and try to get them to listen and learn to talk to each other in a way that they’ll both hear, or they might break up, because couple’s work is often the last step before a couple will break up because they waited so long to come and see you, because of the stigma around mental health – big breath – but also precarious because any little issue you might have been ignoring in your own relationship can get highlighted and causes you to, well, write blog posts to reflect a little deeper on your thoughts. But, this is also the beauty of doing couple’s work, because as a relationship therapist I have the chance then – if I take it, of course –  to use those reflections to open up those previously ignored issues, and to try to resolve them before they become larger issues.

Does my partner love me?  Yes, of that I am sure.  Am I afraid that he doesn’t love me sometimes? Yes. Gosh, yes. Every time I forget something important he’s mentioned, every time I make a mess, every time we have a bad day and say thoughtless things, I think: am I enough for him? Did I really hurt his feelings this time? Is he falling out of love with me?

Do I love him? Without a doubt. Do I question that sometimes? I would be lying to myself, and to him, if I said I didn’t. And here’s where couple’s work gets tricky: what’s our “definition” of love? Without getting all syrupy and gooey about it, or over-simplifying it, love is, for us and for many others, a relationship where safety, appreciation, and intimacy exist without question, and where we commit, to each other and to our community, to continue to work at our relationship so that we are both happy and fulfilled. Is that a perfect definition? Well no, and most of us who work with relationships will say there isn’t one, because love is a living, breathing emotion, just like all the others.  It is different things at different times, because it has to be.  Sometimes it’s holding each other in the dark after a terrible week; sometimes it’s letting the other go out with his friends because he needs to “reset”; sometimes it’s listening to the same work story for the 30th time because you know she just needs to vent.  So yes, yes, I do sometimes question my love for him, but only because I question my own resolve to continue to love, because I know I am imperfect. Love is a commitment, it is effort, it is showing up every time they need you – and as humans, we falter. It is our nature to falter, to make mistakes. Just as is it in our nature to find the good, and to face our fears, to forgive, and to keep on loving.

I’m about 5 years into private practice work, a youth in the work – but not in life. I have an old soul; an existential, empathic, artistic soul, that revels in the real wonders of the work I do – and I don’t think it will ever get old.  I get the chance not only to listen to and share stories with other human beings – a therapy that has been around since the dawn of language – but I also get to learn about myself and examine myself in the process.  And when I stop and appreciate that for a moment, then the little kid in me is like what? That’s amazing! More, more! and the adult in me recognizes yes! That’s important, nice job. And of course, the therapist in me feels healed and healing and grateful I get to be there, so many times over. And in the end, I know that the work I do on a daily basis continues to facilitate an awareness and an understanding of myself, my partner, my relationship, and the many relationships I continue to work with - and that it will continue to make me and the work stronger for years to come.


Jason LeCompte