"It's open," I call.
Seth and Laura walk in.
"Please have a seat," I offer.
They sit down.
Seth looks depressed, and Laura looks like she should buy major stock in Visine.
Neither one of them say a word.
I realize that I'm going to have to step in with an opener, so I ask, "I understand you're having some difficulties in your relationship. Laura, would you like to start?"
Laura swallows and begins.
"We've been dating for about six months, and everything was going great. But a couple of weeks ago an issue came up...and..."
Laura chokes up, and Seth continues. "And we just can't seem to get past it. It's become a real problem in our relationship."
He looks even more depressed than before.
I know that my response is going to surprise them, as it's surprised so many couples before. "You know, that's great."
Their jaws drop. This time, Laura found her tongue first.
"What do you mean, 'great?' It's great that we're having problems? Great that I can't sleep at night!"
"It's not great that you can't sleep at night, but it is great that you're having problems and that you're acknowledging them."
I wasn't being sarcastic, by the way. When a couple has a problem, recognizes it and reaches out for help in dealing with it that really is great.
We live in an instant generation. We have instant coffee, instant oatmeal, instant messaging. Our computers need more and more memory, and every few months, fast Internet gets just a little bit faster. We can't wait for...anything.
To give you an example, my laptop had to be fixed. The technician told me that, among other things, there was something wrong with my e-mail program. How did he know? Because it took 3 seconds for it to connect. How long should it have taken? Maybe 3 milliseconds. It boggled my mind. In our generation, 3 seconds is too long to wait for results.
While this may be very convenient for drinking coffee or doing research, it has wreaked havoc on our interpersonal relationships. We have become so accustomed to instant results that we - perhaps subconsciously - expect relationships to work the same way.
But they don't.
Relationships take time. They take patience.
And they take a willingness to put things on the table.
That's why I told Seth and Laura that their situation was great. They realized that they were having difficulties, and were prepared to invest time and effort in working them out. Among other things, I gave them a list of three questions to guide them in putting issues on the table.
I'm going to give them to you, too.
Question #1: What do I need to know to be absolutely certain that I want to marry this person? Now, the reason this is important is that you are obviously not going to get to know every aspect of the other's personality through dating. You would have to date them for at least 15 years, and that probably wouldn't be long enough, either. The only framework in which you really get to know the whole person is marriage, because that's it. You're committed to each other, and you're committed to working things through. You're stuck, so to speak.
So what you do need to figure out is how much you feel that you do need to know before you can marry this person. What's important to you? Which character traits are important to you? Is there anything that bothers me about this person, or about the relationship? Is it something I honestly think I can live with, or is it something that's constantly going to come up between us? You need to answer these questions very clearly for yourself, and be very sure about the answers.
Question #2: Can I be vulnerable with this person, and are they willing to be vulnerable with me? This is important, because any marriage involves an exposure of our inner selves. Ask him what his biggest struggle in life has been so far. Ask her what her biggest fear is. Can you discuss your ambitions with each other, or are you afraid of what he might think? Can you discuss your fears with her, or are you concerned that she will put you down? If you cannot be vulnerable, then there is no way that you will be able to have an open relationship. And a marriage that is not open can be very easily torpedoed by the most insignificant difference of opinion.
Question #3: How does the other person react when you bring up issues that bother you? Tim and Nancy have been dating for a while, and are beginning to contemplate marriage. One night, they go out to dinner, and Tim uncharacteristically snaps at the waiter. Nancy can't believe it. Is this the Tim she's come to know? Nancy can now take advantage of this opportunity to see how Tim reacts when she calls him on something he shouldn't have done.
"Tim, honey, you know...I'm really sorry to say this, but you were really somewhat rude to the waiter back there in the restaurant."
If Tim answers something to the effect of, "Yeah, I know. I really shouldn't have snapped at the poor guy. It's not his fault I had a tough day at work," then Nancy will know that Tim is a person with whom issues can be aired and worked out. But a response like, "Oh, yeah? Let's see how you react after a day at work like I had," should start sounding alarm bells in Nancy's head as to whether or not Tim is capable of admitting his own faults and resolving differences of opinion.
Seth and Laura applied these three questions, and realized that the issues that had been bothering them were not as significant as they had originally thought. The invitation to their wedding landed in my mailbox yesterday, and I can't wait to go.
Ask yourself these three questions, too, and answer them honestly. You'll be surprised at how they can clear your emotional vision, and allow you to view your relationship in perfect focus.
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