Can This Relationship Be Saved Archives

Jim and Brian: Don't Rock the Boat

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 Jim wants.

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 he wants.

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: Parents But Not Partners

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.

Jan came from a large loving family, and she had always wanted children. Julie did not have as much experience with kids, but also was excited at the prospect of becoming a parent. About 7 years into their relationship, Jan became pregnant through alternative insemination and had their first child, Gordie. Both partners were elated to be starting their family.

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for problems to erupt in their relationship. Jan was a very involved mom who did not think it was right to leave Gordie with a sitter. Julie began to resent the fact that Jan never wanted to be involved in sports, attend events, and socialize with their friends as they had in the past. Over the next several years, Jan focused more and more on their son and less and less on Julie. Julie also distanced herself to the point where she went to work, came home and read the newspaper and watched sports on TV. The intimacy soon went out of their relationship.

When Gordie was about 3 years old, Jan and Julie got into one of their ongoing arguments, each trying to change the other's position. This time, Julie became so frustrated, she asked Jan to move out. They separated for 5 months.

When they reconciled, Jan told Julie she wanted a second child, and Julie agreed. Their second child, Salina, was born. It's now two years later, and Jan and Julie have two children, but nothing has changed. They continue to have a distant, resentful relationship. Every so often, they get into very heated arguments about why things won't change, each blaming the other for their misery.

Can this relationship be saved?

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 also have 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.

As part of renegotiating the relationship, we would see how Jan can step back a bit from the parenting role. It will then be time for Julie to step up to coparent. As the therapist, I would provide the structure for this to happen by helping the couple talk about parenting in a constructive way. Perhaps Jan will still be the primary parent, but Julie will participate more and benefit from the joys and responsibilities of parenting.

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!

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