Stay and Fight

Posted on May 23, 2013


There is a love that never fails.  There is a healing that always prevails.  There is a hope that whispers a vow, a promise to stay while we’re working it out.  Sara Groves

For once in your life, here’s your miracle.  Stand up and fight.  Kenny Loggins

This post would have seemed more appropriate about 3 months ago, but I am a little behind on my TV viewing and just watched the Valentine’s Day episode of The Office.  For anyone not familiar with this particular TV sitcom (now in its 9th season), the show chronicles the work lives (and by extension, the private lives) of the employees of The Dunder Mifflin Paper Company’s regional office in Scranton, PA.  When you have been with them for a while, this quirky bunch can seem like old friends.  The most popular characters are Jim and Pam.  Back in season 1, they were a couple of coworkers with obvious chemistry (Pam was “engaged” to someone else at the time).  Over the course of the nine years we have been on hand for their first date, their first kiss, Jim’s proposal, their wedding, and the births of both of their children.  This season the relationship has been strained by Jim starting a business with some friends.  The business is in Philadelphia so they are apart most of the work week.

In the Valentine’s Day episode, some things have come out over lunch which have left Jim and Pam emotionally disconnected (if you happen to be a therapist watching the show).  At the end of the work day, Jim tells Pam, “Let’s skip the bottle of wine.  Drop me at the bus station, and I will take the bus back to Philly tonight.  If we go home, we are just going to fight.”  After a long pause, Pam says calmly, “I want to go home and fight.”  Jim: “You want to fight on Valentine’s Day.”  Pam: “I want to fight.”[1]  Looking at it with a view to couple’s therapy, this is a beautiful moment.  When faced with the choice of staying disconnected or walking through the pain of restoration, they made the choice to reconnect even if it meant a fight.[2]

In working with distressed couples, I usually have each partner complete a Dyadic Adjustment Scale early in our work together.  The DAS is an assessment tool that gives a quick view to how each partner views the relationship.  The last question is the one that I view as most important.  This is where the partner rates their level of commitment to the relationship.  There are 6 possible choices.

Which of the following statements best describes how you feel about the future of your relationship?

  • I want desperately for my relationship to succeed, and would go to almost any length to see that it does.
  • I want very much for my relationship to succeed, and will do all I can to see that it does.
  • I want very much for my relationship to succeed, and will do my fair share to see that it does.
  • I would be nice if my relationship succeeded, but I can’t do much more than I am doing now to help it succeed.
  • It would be nice if it succeeded, but I refuse to do any more than I am doing now to keep the relationship going.
  • My relationship can never succeed, and there is no more that I can do to keep the relationship going.

Fortunately, I have never had a partner select the last choice.  My supposition would be that you would not be paying for couple’s counseling if you really felt the relationship could never succeed.  If both partners select one of the top 3 choices, the prognosis is pretty good for therapy.  Most distressed couples are either stuck in negative cycles of interaction and/or are coping with some emotional wounds within the relationship.  To decide to work it out takes the courage and commitment to choose to work through the pain in order to heal and reconnect, rather than choosing to stay emotionally disconnected or end the relationship.  It is difficult work, but it is worth it.  We are made for relationship.  Throughout our lives we need to have someone to whom we matter, someone who has our back, someone to whom we can turn for comfort and support when life is difficult.  At some point, your hearts were so connected that you decided to spend your lives together.  It is possible to find that again if both partners are willing to stay and fight for the relationship.  Ultimately, that fight is not against each other, but against the negative cycles that are the enemy of your relationship, that leave you both feeling disconnected.  It may take the support of a therapist to overcome these negative patterns.  If the wounds are from serious breaches of the trust in the relationship, you should definitely find a therapist to help you heal.  It does take the commitment of both.

Finally, if something bad happens to Pam and Jim this season, don’t tell me.  I will find out eventually.  I am hoping the writers wouldn’t do that to the fans.  They belong together.

[1] The lines may not be exact since I am doing this from memory.

[2] I realize they are actors playing fictional characters, but they are still old friends.  I care about what happens to them.