“She’s so abusive!” “He’s not attentive.” “I don’t like the way she treats me.” “He’s never around.”
These are some of the comments life counselor Robin Mitzen hears from married couples who are in therapy with her.
Some of the things I hear from both men and women are so much worse, I can’t even share them! Now, keep in mind, I’m divorced, so obviously I realize I’m not an authority on how to have a successful long-term relationship. Or maybe I am an authority (even an expert) because I’m divorced. Whatever the case, I feel like a lot of married people forget how to be nice to each other. They forget how to respect each other. They don’t give each other compliments. They don’t cherish their partner. People constantly focus on flaws and mistakes and things that bug them, and they forget the reasons they actually married the person.
“We tend to treat the Starbucks guy a whole lot nicer than the person we live with,” says Mitzen, who prefers to meet with the couple first and then have individual sessions next so that each person can speak freely and tell her what the issues really are.
“It’s always deeper than ‘You’re bugging me,’ ” she says, “When people live together for a long time, anger can build. And under anger is sadness, and under sadness is fear.” She says the majority of couples forget to look in the mirror and face their own problems. She adds, “They should be asking, ‘What is it about me that I don’t like that I’m blaming you for?’”
There are exceptions. I know lots of married people who are still very much in love after many years. Like Susan and Joe Palkovic of Glenview, parents of three children who’ve been together for 17 years. Joe recently made a comment I won’t soon forget. He said to his wife, “Oh come on … you know how hot you are.” It was so cute! This is a guy who is truly gaga over his wife and it’s obvious.
“Kids put a lot of pressure and stress on a relationship and you can lose sight of the fact that you’re a couple. You have to put that first,” he says.
“Joe always brings me a cup of coffee in the morning while I’m getting ready for work. It’s a kind gesture and it makes me want to do nice things for him, too,” says Susan.
Aside from talk therapy to help her clients, Mitzen gives her couples small assignments in gratitude, such as listening to the other person for at least 5 minutes each day without interrupting, making sure to kiss hello and goodbye every day, and instead of a one-second smooch, making it 20 seconds long. She says lots of times things like this work.
“Little things pay off because neither has gotten that adoration or attention in so long, and they’re so happy to have even just a little bit,” she says.
Melissa Uhlig is a mother of 4 who’s been with her husband Brian for almost 18 years. Her secret?
“Every night we kiss 3 times,” she says, “One isn’t enough, and after the second one I want one more. It’s always three.”
To some, this might be nauseating. Others might find it cute. I say, “Whatever works, right?”