Love & Fidelity: For Better or Worse
by Tracy E. Hill, Ph.D.
As a practicing educational psychologist and counselor, I see many couples and individuals for relationship counseling. Typically, people seek counseling when their relationship has gone sour or is facing a particular crisis. Rarely do couples seek counseling when their relationship is doing well.
But why wait until things are bad? Do you wait until you crack a tooth or do you have regular cleanings by the dentist? Do you hold off until you have breast cancer or make annual mammogram appointments? Relationships should have the same tune ups as everything else in your life if you prefer prevention to reaction.
I remember many years ago, my father and I took a canoe ride on Lake Wallenpaupack, a small waterhole east of Scranton, Pennsylvania. He wanted to talk to me about something and obviously needed some privacy to do so. As we paddled away from shore and drifted in the center of the lake, I gently asked him, “What’s going on, Dad?”
With pain in his eyes, he told me that he was thinking of leaving Mom. I wasn’t surprised. Mom was a tough lady to live with. But he was telling me this to seek my counsel, not my approval.
Of course, I asked my father a few questions that I was pretty sure I knew the answers to such as “What precipitated this?” and “How long have you been thinking about this?” He struggled to find the words to express how he felt. He articulated that, although he loved her, he just wasn’t happy anymore.
Again, I wasn’t surprised. My mother was a difficult person—condescending and judging. Nothing was ever quite good enough for her. For as long as I could remember, my father would yield to her demands and rarely confront her. I don’t think I ever heard my parents yell at each other because Dad would simply acquiesce to her wishes and comments. Which is why one of his favorite sayings was “You do what you have to do to keep the marriage together.”
So this was a bit of a change. And it must have been significant because “family” meant the world to Dad. He had been abandoned by his own parents at age two, so his children and wife were paramount to everything else in his world.
What I told Dad is what I tell my clients: the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. But you know the grass you have. You know where the holes are, when and where it needs fertilizer, and how often to water it. If you go looking for other grass, you have to start fresh—see things with new eyes, be more open and receptive to different grass, try harder to find different grass for you. And there’s no guarantee the new grass will be any better than your old grass, just different.
So why not put the effort into the grass you already have? Fertilize it more often, and water it with more care. Fill the holes when you see them and take the time to remove the weeds. Open your eyes and notice the color of the grass you have and appreciate its splendor and greenery. Nourish it when it’s looking dull or brown. Talk to your grass, touch your grass, and enjoy all its wonders. Let your own grass flourish under your attention and care.
Finding new grass may work. But the statistics are against it. The average divorce rate in the U.S. is 50 percent for first marriages, 67 percent for second marriages and 73 percent for third marriages. You might beat the odds, but most likely you won’t.
Unless there are unusual circumstances (such as domestic violence), if you put the time and energy into the partner you already have than looking elsewhere, you can develop a deeper, more meaningful relationship with someone you built a life with, already know and love.
As February brings thoughts of love to those around the world, I wish you all green grass and the tools you need to keep it that way.
And yes, Dad stayed with Mom for another 30 years of marriage (after our canoe ride) before his untimely death took him away too soon.
Don’t be the statistic. Water your grass.
Highest divorce rates per country (according to an international poll in January 2019):
- Belgium – 71%
- Portugal – 68%
- Hungary – 67%
- Czech Republic – 66%
- Spain – 63%
- Luxembourg – 60%
- Estonia – 58%
- Cuba – 56%
- France – 55%
- United States – 53%
Photo credits by: bbc.com and “L’automne, deja” by Barbara Sobczynska (Poland) from deviantart.com