Can This Relationship Be Saved Archives
Jim is 25 and Brian is 39. Jim moved to the city three years ago and got a job as a waiter in an upscale restaurant. Brian is a physician and works in the Emergency Room of a large hospital.
Jim moved to the city to live an openly gay lifestyle and to experience the club scene. He had
no plans to find "Mr. Right" and settle down. He met Brian when Brian came in to the restaurant
with a group of friends. Jim flirted openly with Brian because he thought he was cute and also
to help earn him a better tip. At the end of the evening Brian asked for Jim's phone number.
They started dating and, after about 6 months, Jim moved in with Brian. Brian is very involved
in his work, works long hours, and has a very demanding job. Jim also works very hard and likes to work on the weekends where he can earn very good money in tips. Both men are out
working on variable schedules throughout the week. They try to coordinate their schedules so that they
can have time together, but sometimes they go for several weeks and hardly see one another.
After living together for 18 months, Brian would like to buy a house and move to the suburbs where he has
the chance to join a family practice. He is excited at the prospect of having more regular hours
and a more normal relationship with Jim where they can travel and spend weekends relaxing and
enjoying the peace and quiet outside the city. Jim has a large circle of single friends and still
spends a lot of his leisure time going out to clubs and socializing. He loves Brian, but does
not look forward to being "stuck in the suburbs". He is also excellent at his job and has worked
his way up to one of the most exclusive restaurants in the city. Both men are within a short
subway ride to their jobs. Jim loves the location because he can walk to restaurants and bars and
easily visit the apartments of his friends.
Brian is comfortable telling Jim that he loves him and wants to make a life with him. He has
introduced Jim to his family and has also met Jim's family. They have made a life together in the
city which has allowed both of them to continue to see their friends (and now mutual friends),
dine out, and enjoy being openly gay in the part of the city where they live. They have a good
relationship, enjoy the same things, and are respectful and honest with one another. Because they
have such busy work schedules, they value their time together and try to make the most of their
days off. The bottom line is Jim loves his life in the city and has no desire whatsoever to
move to the suburbs. He always wants more time with Brian, but he secretly wonders what it would
be like to be with somebody all the time. He loves his friends and going out dancing and meeting
interesting people. He is happily faithful to Brian, but does have a life outside of their relationship. Brian's opportunity for a life in the suburbs is causing him to pressure Jim to
move. He has offered to buy them a house and support Jim until he finds a job he likes. He has
offered to help Jim with college if that's what Jim wants. He points out that there is an excellent
college in the suburb where he wants to live. Jim and Brian have had a few heated discussions, and
the last one lead to Jim telling Brian to go ahead and move if that's what he wanted....but he would
have to go alone.
Can this relationship be saved?
On the surface, it looks like this relationship could work out. If Brian is willing to make
some choices, Jim might be able to adjust as well. Jim and Brian's relationship is currently
based on similarities in need. Jim is only 25 and, developmentally, he is just at the end
of adolescence. (Adolescence extends through age 26). He enjoys socializing and going out.
He moved to the city to be openly gay and to lead a gay lifestyle in a part of the city where
that is possible. This kind of openness and acceptance is unlikely to occur in the suburbs.
Brian is wanting to go from the hospital ER setting to a family practice. His role will change
dramatically as he will necessarily be concerned with how he is perceived and accepted in the
private sector and so will his business partners. There could be a great deal of pressure on
Brian to conform and to keep his gay lifestyle somewhat hidden. This is not the kind of lifestyle
There is nothing in the case study to indicate that Jim wants to attend college. He has done
very well in the restaurant business and apparently enjoys his work and has moved up the ladder
in his chosen field. It just may be that Brian is trying to control the situation by offering
to buy them a home and support Jim while he attends college. It looks as if the college degree
is something Brian wants for Jim, but Jim has not expressed an interest in it. This is an
obvious power play on Brian's part where he will use his money and position to try to get what
Jim and Brian have been quite happy in their current situation. They both express wanting
more time together, but Jim also wonders if having this time together will work for him. He
seems a bit more satisfied than Brian with the time they have together. Again, Brian is almost
40 and probably is wanting to "settle down" and lead a more peaceful lifestyle. Jim is not in the
same place. He enjoys his partially single life where he can have the freedom he enjoys to
go out and have fun.
Brian is really the one who is proposing that they change the dynamic of their relationship, a
dynamic that is working pretty well. If it is the time factor that he is trying to address, the
compromise would be for the couple to stay where they are and for him to get a position that
would be flexible enough for him to spend more time with Jim. Perhaps he could continue to work
in a city hospital, but not in the Emergency Room. Or he could work in an ER and try to find
a hospital that would allow him more time away from his job. It would really be unfair for
Brian to push this suburbs idea when it is very likely to destroy the relationship with Jim.
Jim has been pretty direct about not wanting to move to the suburbs. It would be a shame to
break up the relationship at this point, but if Brian really wants to be a family practitioner
in a small-town setting, it is better that the couple address their differences now. Jim could
change his position at a later time, but it would be Brian's choice to defer his plans in hopes
that Jim would change his mind. Continuing to pressure Jim beyond discussing the issue will have
a negative effect on their relationship.
Given their age differences, and the differences in how they wish to lead their lives, it would
be a mistake for Jim to give up his life to move to the suburbs with Brian. It would surely
mean the end of their relationship. If Brian cannot stay in the city and try to reach some
kind of compromise, the relationship is also doomed. Brian has some soul-searching to do in
order to accept a compromise that will save his relationship with Jim.
Julie and Jan have been a couple for almost
15 years. They met when they were each in their mid-twenties. When they first got together, they had a lot in common. Their most bonding interest was sports. Both
were good athletes; and they enjoyed participating in sports and attending events together. Their social life
revolved around other women also in the "jock" lifestyle.
This relationship can be saved! This is a classic case of a couple who have drifted apart.
Many times, couples lose sight of their relationship when children come along. And if they
do not have the skills to communicate about what is happening, each resigns themselves
to this polarized position: Jan focusing on the children, and Julie focusing on sports on TV. Julie and Jan cannot communicate and, as a result, have been unsuccessful in making their relationship better.
This relationship was originally based on shared common interests. This is extremely important
for long-term compatability. Many times, when couples meet, they really don't have that much
in common. In the throws of a new relationship, each becomes interested in what the other
enjoys. Everything is new and exciting and they are aiming to please! But eventually, we all fall back into enjoying the things we've always enjoyed. Not that we cannot expand our interests when we are exposed to new things, but to change our interests to fit those of another and abandon our own enjoyment is just not realistic, nor is it healthy. On a very positive note, Jan and Julie were both very interested in sports when they met. That common interest is
probably still there. So, that's Building Block #1.
Jan and Julie separated once for several months, but they came back together. People stay
together for all kinds of reasons, some of them not so good. But this couple did try again
and decided to have another child. Because Julie agreed to a second child, I am going to
conclude that she did so because she really does like children. Other wise, she's a glutton
for punishment. Building Block #2
Jan and Julie have two children to consider and a shared history of 15 years together. They
a group of friends, and at least one of the women, Jan, has a loving extended family.
Building Block #3
There is no indication of physical violence, addiction, or mental illness in either of the
partners. Building Block #4
These four building blocks are enough to provide impetus for this relationship to work.
Now the couple needs outside help. They've been together 15 years and they haven't been
successful in talking to one another, resolving conflict, and maintaining intimacy. What
happens when the same conflict keeps coming up and it never gets resolved? Each
partner becomes polarized in their position. They are at opposite ends and, over time,
the resentment and frustration kills the intimacy in their relationship. They no longer
laugh, share their feelings, make love, or have fun. Life between them is a real drag.
When this couple comes in for therapy, I will take a complete history of the relationship.
It is important for me to know where the relationship has been and what attempts have been
made to make it better. In couples counseling, the "patient" is the relationship. And
it is always both of the partners who contribute to the dysfunction. I also take
an individual history for each to determine what "buttons" might be pushed from childhood.
Depending on the couple, the first several sessions are spent developing communication
skills. No issue will be resolved until this couple can talk to one another productively.
These skills will improve, with practice, as the therapy goes on. In this case, the position of change starts with Jan. Jan's position has been to be "super mom". She is probably too enmeshed with the children. She is unconsciously trying to make up for Jan's non-involvement. But my guess is that she would find it hard to let go of her mom power.
She probably complains that Julie isn't involved, but she needs to make room
for Julie first.
Once a new parenting structure is in place, time and attention will be given to the
primary relationship. The most precious gift parents can give their children is a
loving relationship between the two of them. Once Jan and Julie can talk to one another
in a non-blaming way, they will begin to feel closer to one another as they resolve conflicts
successfully. At the same time, this couple needs to get out more together and have fun.
Going out once a week is not too much if they have the resources for childcare. At a minimum,
one night every three weeks will help them enjoy each other outside the confines of home
and parenting. It's time for them to reconnect with friends, get out to some sporting events,
and perhaps join a team together. Family events involving both parents will be a time for them to share the joys of having fun as a family and also spending time as a couple.
Continuing with therapy until they have resolved their conficts and have the tools to continue
doing so is very important. It will take some time for the trust to rebuild in the relationship
because of past hurts and disappointments. In the safety of the therapy sessions, past issues
can be dealt with, forgiven, and resolved. Sharing in a way that shows they love one another
will lead to a stronger friendship and a deeper intimacy. The sexual intimacy is usually the
final layer, but it is a very important one. Physical closeness and touching helps nurture
the "specialness" of the couple relationship. It will take some time and a commitment from
both Jan and Julie, but I think this relationship can turn around and become something worth working on!