Relationship Problems and the Stories We Live By
Imagine you’re Cinderella. Gentleman reader, please forgive me for beginning with her rather than the Prince – he does come into this shortly. So, you’re Cinderella, you’ve run off and left your glass slipper behind and suddenly the doorbell rings; your ugly stepsister announces it’s the Prince. Heart fluttering, you usher him into the lounge...but then he says something you don’t expect:
“Where’s the Princess with the over-sleeping problem?”
Politely you remind him that he’s in the wrong house; you met last night, danced like a dream...you left your shoe...doesn’t he remember? He smiles politely but is undeterred.
“Of course I remember. However, I’m on a mission to rescue a sleeping beauty. Not that you aren’t lovely, of course...but you’re not what I’m sure I’m meant to find. Sorry.”
Two people who have different stories by which they are living, somehow ending up together – what a mess. Yet this is what most close relationships are all about: two people who believe they are living out their dream, only to discover some way along the path that their Princess or Prince doesn’t recognise the same story. Often it takes years for the full realisation to happen. In the ‘real’ story of Cinderella, she probably thought she’d got off lightly with her glittering coach turning back into a pumpkin at midnight just after they met. Not to mention that she remained unaware of the Prince's less attractive habits.
There can be something rather smug about those who smile dryly as you share your problem, and they freely use the word ‘compromise’ as if it was some kind of magic wand. Yet in the painful world of dispelled illusions that word fails to convey the agony involved. After what may be years of partnership, how can we make meaning out of broken trust, of shattered faith, of betrayal, or of plain old boredom, lost dreams and impatience?
Through counselling and psychotherapy there is the possibility of finding meaning through such experience. Our Cinderella and her Prince might take a moment to consider whether they want to live out the story they feel has been written for them, and then decide that they are, as individuals, more than the sum of their respective stories. With the awareness comes the realisation that they are free agents to be as they choose. A person can choose whether to meet the expectations and plot lines set for them by their story-making parents and then by they themselves as they conformed or rebelled; or they can write their own story.
With this realisation comes a real sense of freedom and discovery. Through the counselling process each person can work out what their ‘story’ or ‘script’ is, and the assumptions and belief systems they have carried with them. And, along with this, they may discover the essential nature of who they truly are. And, of course, in couples counselling each person is also finding out the difference between the story book character they believed they were with and the real person.
By this stage, living happily ever after will look different to everyone, and what you thought was your story book ending might have been radically transformed. It might be that you stay together, or maybe not; but it is possible through this process of painful revelation of reality to find new meaning in life, a fresh awareness and pleasure in your true self, and certainly a release from boredom. Lost dreams can be replaced by new ones.
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