Does this describe you? You are an intelligent woman, and you are fortunate to be in a career that you love–or, at least, like well enough. You are successful in your work, which might be in one of the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or business. You enjoy status and respect and you are well rewarded financially. At work, you feel comfortable and confident. People look to you because of your knowledge and experience, and you are often called upon to share your wisdom and to mentor colleagues. From the outside, it all looks great. When you are at work, it looks great to you, too. Work is a rewarding and comfortable place. When it comes to work, you are feeling pretty lucky.
…But Maybe Not So Great at Your Relationships
But when you leave work, something else happens. You might be in a relationship, but it isn’t working very well. You are often in conflict with your spouse or partner, but you aren’t always sure why. You just don’t seem to understand each other. Maybe you are dating and finding it hard to connect with others. Or maybe you have given up on the whole relationship thing because it never seems to work out for you and it feels a lot easier to be single. You are frequently accused of being emotionally distant and, not so deep down, you wonder if this might be true.
You’re a Problem Solver
One of the ways you have been successful in your work has been to be a great problem solver. So when your partner is having a problem, you naturally want to help by brainstorming and finding a way to fix the problem. After all, people are always interested in solving problems, right?
…But You Haven’t Been Able to Figure Out This One
The trouble is that we are all wired differently. For you, the path from problem to solution is a straight line. No point in wasting time going in circles. But for your partner, the path from problem to solution may not be so obvious. It is even possible that finding a solution is not the goal for your partner. To you, that may seem like a waste of time, but to your partner, it feels as organic as breathing. Just as solving problems feels natural and intuitive to you, feeling heard and processing feelings feels natural and intuitive to your partner.
Tips for Dealing with This
Relationships are complicated things that can have lives of their own. One of the keys to making your relationship successful is to spend some time learning to understand your partner, even if it might sometimes seem like they are speaking in a foreign language. If you decided to live in France, you are definitely the kind of person who would not only learn French, but seek to be fluent. You would reason that you might be able to get by speaking English if you were a tourist, but you would never be comfortable with the limitations that would place on you. How would you make friends, or find a job, or tell your landlord that the pipes are leaking? You would want to learn as much as you could about the language, even if it felt awkward to you and even if you sometimes failed at it. You would take pride in your successes and resolve to do better when you were unsuccessful. Even when things were frustrating, you would stick with it. That is just who you are. Why would dealing with your relationship be any different?
In my work as a psychotherapist, I have found that what makes women great at their work can often lead to frustration and feeling unsuccessful in their relationships.
When we seek a mate, we are often driven by unconscious motivations, as unromantic as this may sound. One of those unconscious motivations can be qualities in the other person that you wish you had more of yourself. This is the well-known maxim “opposites attract.” So if you are an introvert, you will likely end up with an extrovert. If you are driven by your intellect, your partner is probably driven by her emotions. In some secret way, usually unknown even to ourselves, we do this because we think we will land somewhere in the middle—she will be influenced by our introversion and you will be influenced by her extroversion and the two of you will live happily ever after somewhere in the middle—but the more likely outcome is that what drew you to this person to begin with, often becomes what repels you and leads to difficulties when the honeymoon stage is over.
This often results in frustration, anger, and disappointment, but it doesn’t have to. Couples can learn to listen to each other, to understand each other, and to find that elusive middle ground. One place to start is to listen—really listen—to what your partner is telling you both in her words and in her actions. Try to stay as present as you can, make eye contact, and imagine what she might be experiencing. What may feel like an attempt to push you away may actually be a bid for more connection. If you listen hard enough, you might be able to hear something you have never heard before.
Questions about psychotherapy or about my approach to psychotherapy? Please view my website at www.marlacass.com or contact me at 415-218-2442 (phone link works from smartphones only) or at firstname.lastname@example.org/