Relationships: The Road From Dating to Commitment
A male or female patient is referred to me because of depression and anxiety. The source of these feelings is the fact that the marriage is ending and divorce proceedings have started. The patient reports: "I am shocked and dismayed by how quickly things fell apart. I cannot believe it. From the first time we met there was a strong attraction between us. We started to date and the relationship deepened. He (she) had a great sense of humor and was very warm and caring. Now it's over, just like that. I can't believe he (she) is the same person. This is difficult to accept because things were wonderful in the beginning. What happened? What went wrong?"
The process of developing a deep and intimate relationship between two people begins with feelings of excitement when they meet one another. As they begin dating, the couple discovers that they share much in common. They have similar interests, come from similar backgrounds and have similar thoughts and ideas about family, children and the future. Each listens carefully to the other and discovers that the other is attentive and supportive. In fact, they each state that this is their "soul mate."
At this stage, neither one can stand to be away from the other. They look forward to being with their partner with great excitement. The increasing sense of joy makes the rest of the world seem irrelevant. The couple makes the decision to be exclusive, including plans to become engaged when the time is right. At this point, many couples decide to have sex and, in some cases, to move in with one another. Finally, marriage or a permanent agreement to be together without marriage, takes place.
It is at this point that life can begin to become difficult for these people. In the beginning of a relationship and under the full force of romance or infatuation, two people tend to dismiss the flaws that they notice in one another because they seem unimportant. Now, the previously dismissed imperfections or annoyances become more urgent and bothersome. These annoyances begin to smoulder until a boiling point is reached and the first quarrel ensues.
Feelings of insecurity and vulnerability can develop in one or both indviduals. The partner with the greater sense of insecurity in life may start to question if the other is as much in love as he or she is? For some people, insecurity and doubt can turn into suspicion that the other is out there cheating. Thoughts and questions may develop such as, why is he coming home so late; why does he call during the day; he spends Sunday playing golf but, maybe he is seeing another woman?" The list of questions can grow. Now, the fights and conflicts intensify so that the enitire relationship is at risk.
Depending on the issues people bring to a relationship, couples must grapple with problems having to do with adjusting to sexual behavior, handling money and budgetary questions, and how they feel about such things as sharing control rather than making important decisions that, before marriage, were handled individually and without thinking about an intimate partner. In other words, sharing everything can be more daunting for some individuals rather than others.
Not every couple goes through these stages nor does every couple handle the same problems or with the same intensity. However, given the divorce rate in the United States, and that stands at more then 50% for new marriages, more people share these issues than not.
The fact is that marriage and intimacy require lots of very hard work. For those couples who face the precipice of divorce or who are upset because their marriages are extremely estranged, help is available. In my experience, marriage counseling is very effective in helping couples untangle their problems while learning new coping strategies for being married.
What are your experiences with dating, relationships and marriage?
Your comments are questions are strongly encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD