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Secrets from the Perpetual Girlfriend: 4 Things My Therapist Taught Me About Relationships (That I Should’ve Known)

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Perpetual Girlfriend shares relationship advice from a ‘serious girlfriend’ with ten years — and some serious oversights — under her belt. 

I only began therapy about a month ago, when my new boyfriend insisted. In other words, I likely have a lot to learn, so more on my learning curve, later. Anyway, my new boyfriend is so sure that I’m crazy that he pays for my sessions out of pocket, and my therapist holds 45 minute miracles out of an office on 5th Avenue in New York City, so put that in your pill bottle and snort it. Also, Don’t Go To Bed Angry. Here’s what else I’ve learned:

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1. Put Yourself On Time-Out

I told my therapist flatly, ‘We fight like crazy’, and she has this way of really listening, so intensely that the first time she ever really responded to me, in a monologue, my skills seemed inferior and I asked if I could bring my recorder in so I could refer back to her knowledgeable words. In her calm but accented way of talking, she stated casually, “How about calling a time-out and taking a ten minute break when it starts to get bad…?” A pause. One in which I am experiencing one of those things people in therapy might call a ‘breakthrough’. And then, she continues, “That’s kind of Couples 101.”

Sure it is. But then why had I not been employing this tactic? While I am basking in the afterglow of this revelation, her voice meanders on, saying in her soothing way that I can and should call time-out after time-out, there is no limit to this. It was as if she was writing the rules to a game, a game in which my boyfriend and I were stupid plastic players. Less like Candyland, more like Clue. She went so far as to allow a special time-out that allows an exit, even a pizza run, followed by a creepy drive around the block ten times before parking because you’d still rather be going home to anyone else. Magically sensible, eh? In Couples 101, I would dub this as Keeping Two-Year Old Tantrums In Check.

2. Going In Circles Means Trouble

Inevitably, after session after session talking about my current beau, she demanded to hear about the previous boys, including LOML (love of my life, that is.) Some people have a type, like say, blondes with big boobs (what a cliche). Other people have a type-type. Like boys who drink too much and aren’t handsome in social situations, if you know what I mean. Even though the four serious boyfriends I’ve had would never be put in a line-up together, they all have a few troublesome qualities in common. At this realization, which is often less obvious than you might think, my pretty awesome therapist put her hands on her head and acted like she had alien-antenae and was in a bar looking for a potential mate. Then she talked about chemicals, or maybe pheromones, and said, “You’ve probably heard this before, but if you find yourself repeating something over and over in life, you’re likely trying to fix something broken in the past.”

Well, yeah. I have heard that before. But I guess I forgot in the whirlwind of my romances what exactly had been broken and why I needed to fix it. More on that later. Maybe. But it’s certainly something to think about. What is it that you truly desire or need in a relationship? And why? I must stop before I get too soft.

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3. Be Patient, Be Loving and LISTEN

My therapist has the utmost patience for me. I arrived, basically on her doorstep, a newborn in toddler relationship clothes and started squealing “fix me! fix me!” My current boyfriend and I had one of those incredibly magnetic meetings. As in, I loved him so much after like, two days of dating, that when I talked about him to friends, I hated myself. Since my readers don’t know me yet, I must confess; I am an extremely realistic-borderline-pessimistic person, especially in love. I am not the type to count down the days until I see my love on facebook, unless I am directly mocking other couples who engage in this kind of bullshit. But, I was, really and truly, smitten. A month later we moved in. A series of unfortunate events occurred, a bit above and beyond just you know, Life, and here we are. My therapist guides me to remember that I am here for a reason. (Not on Earth, but like, in her office.) My relationship with her is strong, she who is ever-patient, almost loving, and always, always listens, and it’s an excellent model for what every ideal relationship should be. Seriously, listen when I’m yelling at you! Please.

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4. Relationships Need Therapy

But I digress. I showed up to therapy religiously on Monday evenings and all I did was sit and complain and shout things like, “HE IS SUCH A CHILD!” so that people in the other rooms could hear me and commiserate, and then I had my second breakthrough. “Considering we’ve only been together a few months,” I began, hesitating, like dipping my foot into a scorching hot bath, “isn’t it crazy that I already need therapy to deal with the relationship?” Boom. The thing I lovehate about her, is when I’m asking very plainly for her to tell me what to do, for her to grab me by the shoulders and shake me like a rotten baby, she always manages to skirt my demand and tell me something that makes me feel a little aloof.

Another of her famous pauses, and then, “Oh you’d be surprised, I have patients who bring in people they’ve only just begun to date, before they’ve even committed to each other, to set up ground rules and see if it ever could work out.” Wow. Imagine meeting someone at a bar, going home with them, and then the following day over breakfast (assuming you stay for it) they ask you on a second “date” to therapy. How about we go visit my therapist’s office and then find the nearest bar to get drunk and talk about our parents’ failures? This is a moment where I feel compelled to insert a beloved acronym such as LOL right into my text, but instead, I’ll simply go with, unlikely.

So there it is folks. Relationships take a lot of work. From the get-go. Having a therapist is just kind of like having a maid, someone to pick up the forgotten bits and do maintenance on your ego-stricken heart when you’re feeling unloved. Oh yes, and ground rules. Those are important to have too. Make some of your own today! And then, if you’re in a relationship with problems, make yourself an appointment with a therapist. If you’re in a relationship without problems, I have one dramatic long pause question to pose to you; are you real?

Carly Pifer is a self-proclaimed relationship expert, a title which she credits her uncanny hankering for marathon dating. Though she has traded partners a few times, she’s stayed married to her problems and interest in exploration on the subject. When she’s not writing about sex and relationships, she writes about fashion, travel and whatever else holds her fancy, though curiously, very little rivals her fixation on the male species.

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