Seize the Moment: Is It Time to Reprioritize?

happy couple smiling and holding handsIn every family’s collective life, there exist certain moments which may dictate where that family goes from that point forward—births, deaths, marriages. Life cycle changes of all differing types. Moreover, there may be times when emotional feelings of each family member may become so great that they become blind to these moments.

I saw a couple several years ago who were wonderful examples of this concept. They fell in love while in college and dated for six years before getting married. They had been married for two years when they decided they wanted to have children. Seven years later, they remained childless, despite multiple infertility treatments of all different types, as well as a failed adoption attempt.

The burden that resulted from these experiences was incalculable. Their resentment and grief extended to each other, themselves, and virtually everyone they knew or were close to. Their intimacy shattered, and quickly it became evident that they were repelled from one another. Yet, they continued to have sex in an effort to procreate. Each admitted that they hated the designated time period, as it served only as a reminder of their perceived failure up to that point. They finally came to see me when they admitted that they were considering divorce and separation, as the relationship itself had become far too painful.

As I met with them, we reviewed what things had occurred in their lives while attempting to have children. Each partner was educated, and they both received master’s degrees in their respective fields. The husband got several promotions at work, while the wife was highly successful in her career, but quit after it became apparent that she either had to accept a promotion which would require travel, or quit with the intention to remain home and have kids. They purchased a home and filled the home with several pets, as a substitute for child-raising. Extended family members also had children during this time, but the couple avoided these interactions, as well, as they were again reminded of their infertility.

All of these moments can be viewed as categorical life stages that the couple experienced, but they remained shielded from them due to their desires to become parents. Smaller moments too, were experienced or avoided as applicable. They stayed home most evenings, watching television or doing research on available infertility treatments, or the process of adoption.

We began to discuss how much of their lives were being missed and ignored. Opportunities to grow and experience one another faded away, and were blinked out of their lives as time passed on. The couple began to resent these missed opportunities, as well. They hated who they’d become, and they realized that living this way would make them horrible parents if they ever did have children. Each admitted that they’d become horrible partners to one another, as well. And each committed to doing something about it.

It was in this way that I was reminded of the competitive instincts which lie as potential blessings for all of us. It is at that moment that we recognize that the pain of remaining the same is far more tangible than the pain of change that we capitalize on our competitive drives. We recognize the rareness of every moment which passes our lives, and the brevity that we exist on this planet.

I showed the couple an infographic as a visual depiction of the length and breadth of human existence on earth. To me, it shows how these moments may be exceedingly brief. However, that does not minimize the importance and meaning behind every human life. Rather, quite the opposite: brevity highlights how much these moments can change the lives we experience and how these experiences are shared with those around us. Are we focused on maximizing the moments of our lives, or are we content to merely let them pass around us?

The couple I saw never did have children. However, they also did not split up. They began to examine what their priorities in life were now, ones they had been ignoring for so long. They went on dates, because their marriage was important to them. They regained communication with extended family, because they missed their company, especially their young nieces and nephews. They reinvested in their lives, and vowed to stop grieving over potentials, and become present and mindful of their actual experiences. And they loved it.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jeffrey Kaplan, MA, LMFT, therapist in East Setauket, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Deena

    November 5th, 2013 at 6:02 PM

    Don’t you think that we all do this? I mean there are times whe n I can’t even remember the last time my husband and I spent time alone together because of all the things we are having to do for the kids! I’m not complaining it’s just that I think that all marriages, kids or no kids, need way more work than what most of us are putting into them, mine included.

  • marilyn

    November 6th, 2013 at 4:44 AM

    Marriages are always in a constant state of flux, that’s the way it is. You either have to be willing to change with it or you or your partner one is going to be very unhappy when there is the feeling that one is being left behind. Marriage isn’t meant to be like it was when you first met or said your I do’s; it changes as we change but I notice that there are a lot of couples that don’t want to mature even as the relationship takes it own steps in that direction. Couples have to be willing to embrace these changes as part of a learning process and always be willing to set new goals and prioritize what is important to them as a couple and as individuals right now. Without that willingness I think that you are always going to encounter a great deal of tension in the marriage.

  • Joni

    November 6th, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    It is always a good time to reevaluate your marriage. There isn’t a bad time for that is there?

  • keith W

    November 7th, 2013 at 4:43 AM

    One thing that I see the most is that couples, my marriage included, sometimes get all bogged down and hyper focused on one thing and then it’s like once you have fixated on that you have a hard time moving on and letting go of that one thing. Marriage is about so much more than just one issue, whether it is kids or money or whatever it might be in your life, but there are couples who have only tunnel vision and when this one thing doesn’t go the way that they think that it should, then that’s when they are ready to call it quits. Marriage and a good one is made up of so much more than that and you have to know when you get married, or at least you should, that there will be numerous issues that together you will encounter. You cannot let that one thing be the deal breaker every time.

  • Jayme

    November 8th, 2013 at 4:45 AM

    There will always be these things that keep popping up that remind us of what we see as our failures or our shortcomings but that is what having a strong relationship is all about- having someone who can help you see past all of that and see the positives in a situation.

    Of course life is hard and there will be times where we don’t get what we want. But I want that to be with my husband and not have to do it alone, and I know that if I am not constantly doing things that help make my mariage a priority then this will not be a possibility for us to be in it for the long haul.

  • legan

    November 11th, 2013 at 4:40 AM

    Every marriage goes through stages. You start out honeymooners, then start a family and the kids take over, and then eventually if you make it that far you become a couple without kids at home anymore and this causes a real struggle in many relationships. You have spent so many years doing so many other things that for many of us we have forgotten how to take care of each other, what our partners needs are and many times what our own needs are. I would hope that we would have reordered things by that time so that there isn’t this big rift when you no longer have the role that you been accustomed to playing and you could kind of be struggling to remember who you are and what your new role in this marriage will be.

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