Places and Paces

First and second place ribbons

When I'm providing couples counseling it is inevitable that each person will be a slightly different "place" in the change process. To begin with, it's not unusual for one person to initially be more interested in being in a counseling office than the other. It's probably fair to say that in some fundamental way each partner in a relationship is in a different "place" than the other. Healthy partners don't need to be at the same place as each other all the time in order to function well.

Of course it's important to have substantial agreement on many of the major issues of a relationship, such as whether and when to have children, how to spend, save and invest money, what type of residence to rent or buy, etc. But this doesn't mean that partners need to be in lock-step with each other.

Individuals are just that: individuals. Each person is different from another. An old saying holds that "if two people are exactly the same, one of them is unnecessary".  I've seen many happy couples where the partners were in very different places in terms of religious beliefs, political viewpoints, friendships, leisure activities, and so on. Healthy couples are able to tolerate a great deal of diversity and still maintain a sense of connection and partnership.

The same respect for differences applies to the related concept of what I call "pacing". This simply means that one person is likely to move faster through an event, process or situation than the other. One may make a decision like a jackrabbit while the other is much more deliberate. Partners may start at the same place but each move at very different speeds toward a particular destination, and this is where conflict can arise.

Part of my job as a couples therapist to help people find a way to bridge their differences of both "place" and "pace". Ideally each partner is then able to experience the benefits of their differing positions and perspectives while remaining connected in their sense of shared purpose and mutual connection.

You don't have to be in the same place or move at the same pace as your partner. But the more you are apart on these two dimensions there are special skills and habits you both need to develop to stay connected even during your differences.  Do this and you'll go a long way together.

It's no surprise that some relationship struggles are hard to work through without some extra help.  This is when couples counseling can be of great benefit.  Don't be afraid to reach out for guidance from someone with the skills, experience and temperment to help.  

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For many years Bill Herring has provided psychotherapy, counseling and life coaching to individuals and couples in the Atlanta area.  He helps people with a wide variety of life issues, and is especially regarded for his skill helping people who are struggling with excessive use of pornography and other sexual behaviors that are creating difficulty in their lives.

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