Learn to Live with your Partner: Surviving the Most Difficult Times

Let's say that you recently met this person who has become "The One" It's going great, and then unexpectedly you hit a bump in the road. Before long, this great person doesn't seem so great, and you wonder what happened. In this article, I explain why this might be happening to you, and I also talk about why many couples break up during the 'transition time.' I hope that you can start to see what's happening so that can make it through rough times.

When you 'Know' you’re in Love

When you meet someone, you might feel excited and be filled with anticipation. You might spend lots of time together, have long text or phone conversations, and enjoy plenty of sex. You have a lot in common and you say things like, "She's amazing," or "He's the sweetest guy I've ever met," or "We've known each other for two months, and I just know that he's The One!"

During the first few months, it's natural to feel close and to idealize each other. It’s a wonderful time, and you think that things will never change. Maybe you even believe that you were meant to be with each other.

This is a time where nothing can go wrong. There’s never a word of disagreement. You think about him or her all the time and can’t wait for the phone to ring or text to come in. S/He can’t wait to see you either. You tell all of your friends, and you're completely in love.

There are reasons that this happens. One reason is that you haven't fully gotten to know the person, so all you have seen so far is his or her good side. You might also be projecting many qualities and traits onto him or her that you don't actually know are true. You might also be pinning all of your hopes and wishes on this person – almost as if being with this person will transform you in some way. Luckily, these early memories can be the glue that helps you stay together when times aren't so happy.

Falling off the Pedestal

Regardless of why you start out 'in love', adjusting your lens from rose-colored to clear is part of settling into a long-term relationship. You might start to become disappointed and change your opinion of him or her because maybe you didn't notice his or her negative qualities. Perhaps just as overlooked were your differences. As a result, there's a fall off the pedestal. This fall is illustrated by the following complaints: “S/he’s not who I thought s/he was,” "We are arguing a lot," and "If s/he'd only listen to me, things would be better."

Although this is natural, accepting a more honest picture of each other is difficult but necessary. Unfortunately, at this time, prior avoidance of conflict can give way to focusing on your differences.

Several factors could be at play: differences in ethnicity, age, or religion; different personal preferences like hiking, sports, music, and hobbies; different childhood circumstances like where you were raised, type of discipline used, the quality of your parents' marriage, and the degree of dysfunction (alcoholism, abuse, rage, neglect, etc.). Your budding identity creates another factor, which is your values. Overall, what you observed and experienced growing up – and how you responded to it – impacts you now.

These three factors lead to every person having a unique personality. Your personality affects how you perceive your partner, because it includes the amount of trust you have, your communication style, and willingness to commit. Therefore, the initial Rush stage turning into a Disillusionment stage refers to the fact that you will have challenges that come up as you find out that there are many ways that you are in fact very different from each other.

A potential problem is that you and your partner may begin to have difficulties finding common ground, which can lead to power struggles. A power struggles is simply arguing over whose way you'll be doing something. If you recognize what's going on, you can more readily solve problems related to power struggles. Otherwise, it can lead to heated arguments or wanting some distance. Activities like drinking, having sex with others, overeating, and the Internet are some ways that people find distance.

Along with forging ways of relating to each other and figuring out how to resolve power struggles, fears of abandonment and insecurities can come up during this time. Covering up these feelings or not talking about them can cause you to act out these feelings in ways that are destructive, and they may lead to the breaking (up) point. It is equally detrimental if you don't pay attention to your own and your partner's concerns and don’t talk about your growing issues.

Getting to Really know Each Other

To some degree, all couples must go through an adjustment. With enough effort, you can find ways to come through it. Proceeding in a conscious manner gives you the opportunity to be a solid couple.

Common interests can be beneficial. For example, if both of you go to movies every week, love dogs, eat dinner out a lot, and enjoy shopping, you can adjust to each other's preferences fairly easily. More important than common interests, however, are shared values. Each of you could have an amazing amount of things in common, but if your values clash, you will have a hard time adjusting to one another. Giving yourself more time to get to know each other before moving forward can help you decide if you're compatible and have similar values.

In the first few months, it's not unusual to focus on the other person while neglecting your own wants and needs. This oversight may stem from feelings of insecurity or wanting to not rock the boat, but it's important to focus more on whether this person is right for you rather than whether you measure up to his or her expectations. Using this empowering strategy, your focus shifts from being the right person to finding the right person.

If you and your partner are willing to let go of control and let things happen naturally, you're likely to build a more solid foundation wth your partner than if you rushed into it and overlooked his or her flaws. By taking it slowly, it's easier to let it evolve, and you can take the next steps at a leisurely pace.

It's OK to acknowledge that each of you had misperceptions about each other, but remember that your partner will have flaws that you will have to live with, and s/he will have to learn to live with your flaws as well. If you think s/he will change in fundamental ways, don't count on it. It’s a common mistake to find someone you think you can change, so it’s better to find someone who you can learn to accept for who s/he is.

That isn't to say that your partner can't accommodate you regarding certain issues. There are changes that each of you can make as a result of being aware of how they affect each other. For example, if s/he asks you to drop your dirty clothes in the closet hamper rather than on the bedroom floor, it doesn't take much to make the change permanent.

But notice in this example that I'm referring to something s/he asks you to do and not something you ask him or her to do. You have the right to request similar changes, but s/he may or may not comply with your requests. When you reach a stalemate, it's time to wonder: Are your requests too demanding or is s/he too stubborn or set in his or her ways? This is a simple example of the myriad issues that each couple must resolve. Note that resolution is possible only if both of you take responsibility for these challenges and do your part to resolve them.

I have often heard that going into couples therapy after a few months is "too soon" or that it means that they shouldn't be together. But I have worked with couples who have been together for a few months, and several sessions can be really helpful. We live in a complex world, and it's not easy sometimes for a couple to get off the ground. Couples counseling can help to keep the ship steady and give you the tools you'll need for later on.

Overall, by taking enough time to get to know each other, you can discover your strengths as a couple, accept that you have differences that create conflict, and manage power struggles. You can weather the rocky transition so that falling in love becomes building love.