Contributed by Nadia Persun, PhD
Remember the movie “The Mexican”, where the character played by James Gandolfini asked the character played by Julia Roberts how hard one should work at rescuing a troubled relationship: “If two people love each other, but they just can’t seem to get it together, when do you get to that point of enough is enough?” For a moment, Julia is rambling, listing all of the exceptions that warrant such a decision, just to be told that the answer is “never.” You don’t give up, you work it out with the person you genuinely love.
I don’t know if I agree with any definition involving the absolutes “always” or “never.” There are exceptions in life. I agree, however, that one shall give a fair try to work things out before giving up on an ultimate commitment such as a marriage. Sadly, as a counselor, I’ve noticed that many couples are ready to put an expiration date on their relationship when things are overwhelming, confusing, or just plain boring. One or both partners face some life impasse and begin looking for answers outside of their relationship. At home, they have a partner who is boringly familiar. The daily routine is often not even that bad, their “cup” of life fulfillment is almost full: comfortable home, loved kids, good job. Just a bit of something is missing, somewhere by the rim. What is this “something” and how much it matters is unclear, but it becomes an obsessive question. Overtaken by frustration, anguish, boredom or some other unpleasant emotion, one is willing to tip over the whole cup to find out the answer. That tiny missing part suddenly represents a magic potion, worth gambling the relationship for. A spouse infected by restless heart syndrome often begins thinking about other relationships, sometimes just exercising imagination but sometimes finding real encounters outside of the relationship.
The mirage of newly found happiness can be quite haunting. Since our minds are wired to obsess about a taboo, looking for happiness outside of one’s relationship becomes a pervasive idea. As people become preoccupied by their dreams of a new (and certainly better!) relationship, their real relationships certainly fade in comparison. People begin looking for flaws in their spouses and search for problems in their relationships, and as a result, they begin to readily notice them. Hyper intention results in hyper-attention: we see what we want to see. Every day of a restless heart, spent wondering and searching, turns current partners increasingly dull, rude, and dismissive and our mirage partners more vibrant, charismatic, and appealing.
Dear lost Mary, confused James, frustrated Peter, and hopeful Susan, the captains having launched on a journey to find out whether what you have now is good enough and if there is something better out there. I hope you complete your journey soon by deciding to find peace and happiness in something near and familiar. I wish you find new questions and that your spouse will be your answer. And when it seems to you at times that the grass is greener on the other side, consider watering your own grass first.