My Grandmother’s Earrings And Your Relationship

For years, I’ve noticed how some people seem to fade into their marriage or relationship. “Getting lost” seems too extreme a term, and far too hopeless. I prefer the notion of misplaced, more like the crazy thing I do with my grandmother’s earrings every time that I go on vacation. (Trust me; there is a way back from this story)  I love these earrings. My grandmother gave them to my mother who gave them to me.  The earrings are so dear to me that I’m always afraid of losing them. My solution – I put them in a “safe place.”  This phrase has become a chant that my daughters cackle each time we travel. “Did you put the earrings in a safe place (snicker, giggle)?”  They laugh because I have (more than once) forgotten the safe place and couldn’t remember where I hid the earrings.  They were soooo safe, even from me. Once, after a long vacation, it took me a year to figure out where the safe place was and retrieve my earrings.  By then I was planning another vacation and repeated the nonsense.

What is the relevance of my grandmother’s earrings to a couple’s relationship? People put certain feelings, thoughts and wishes in a “safe place.”  They do this in order to preserve the relationship.  The relationship is dear to them; they fear loss so they put away elements of themselves that might strain or break the connection.  I hid the earrings in order to preserve them. Other people hide their wishes or aspects of personality in order to preserve the marriage.

In the process of coming together as a couple, most people (not all) realize that they will have to compromise, usually give up some behavior or way of being so that the relationship will flourish. Men and women give up other relationships, certain activities, or some freedoms because the relationship requires compromise. Hopefully, they are getting more than they are giving up. 

So far, so good. The trouble comes when you give too much away, when you hide too much.  You do it in order to keep the relationship growing but you are shrinking, you are disappearing. You grow smaller, you feel worse and worse but don’t always know why. You are working at building in a relationship at the expense of building yourself.  It is hard to retrieve those aspects of yourself, harder than it was for me to find my grandmother’s earrings.

If you are an early career clinician, a professor who teaches interviewing skills, or a clinical supervisor, you will find my newest book, “What Do I Say? The Therapist’s Guide To Answering Client’s Questions” (with C. Waehler, published by John Wiley, 2011) a  practical, useful addition to your library.

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