Relationships: Be Right or Be Married
My partner Jaime Olander and I have been married now for seven months, since early October. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that a recent series of couples’ workshops posted on Your Stories Northampton caught my eye.
Sarah Getoff, a Northampton-based psychotherapist regularly offers workshops entitled “Do You Want to be Right or Do You Want to be Married?”
According to her post to the citizen journalism site on MassLive.com, participants discuss “how to fight fair and increase intimacy in their relationships. Discover why couples have the same fight over and over and learn how to do it differently.”
The workshop’s title is what really drew me in. In one sentence she distilled every heated situation I’ve ever been in, inside and outside of marriage, down to its flash point, my need to be right.
I had a co-worker tell me that years ago. “You always need to be right, don’t you?” she asked. It was merely an observation on her part but it prompted me to spend the rest of the workday following her around trying to show her otherwise. “I don’t need to be right. I just am a lot of the time. Wait. Where are you going?”
According to Getoff, my need is just the beginning of the conversation, or the fight as the case may be.
“I think needing to be ‘right’ is really the top layer, a defense,” she explained. “We defend ourselves when we feel attacked. We defend ourselves is much the same way other animals in the animal kingdom do, we fight, flee, hide or freeze.
I was relieved to learn I was just adhering to the laws of the land. We’ve been doing this for millennia.
But does that mean the need is more ingrained in us and therefore harder to break out of? Fortunately, Getoff remains optimistic. “I believe that every relationship has the potential to be a loving, fulfilling relationship under the right circumstances”” she assures.
This is where the workshop comes in. Over the past year, Getoff has offered it in libraries and community centers around the Pioneer Valley. A professional in the fields of education, consulting and psychology for over 15 years, Getoff has a diverse background of experience upon which to draw. Plus she comes from heady stock.
“My father is a psychotherapist,” she noted. As a child I wanted to be a therapist because he was one and he was my hero.” But since beginning her practice she gains inspiration from the people with whom she works. “I am continually inspired by people who are willing and able to look themselves in the eye, move through their painful, stuck places, and make their lives better,” she said.
Just as the title of the workshop cuts right to the heart of the matter, the workshop goes to the center of the relationship.
I discuss some of the unconscious reasons that we choose our partners,” Getoff explained. “Then how this choice can be related to unresolved issues from our past, why couples have the same fights over and over again, and how to break the cycle of those same old arguments.”
I tried to get Jaime to attend one of the more recent workshops at the Forbes Library in Northampton. We couldn’t because Jaime wanted us to stay home and use that time to organize an upcoming tag sale. So I asked Getoff what kind of advice she has for newlyweds.
“My best advice for newlyweds is to come to the workshop now, learn the skills now, while things are good and strong between you,” she said.
See? I was right. But because I’ve already learned from just this interview, I don’t tell Jaime that.
Getoff looks to a pro-active approach as a key to the relationship process. “Most people don’t come to couples’ therapy until they are on the verge of breaking up. Relationship problems are like medical problems; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” she said.
“I’ve always said that one thing I’ve learned in the relationship with my wife is the invaluable skill to recognize when an apology is needed and to do it in such a way that it assumes genuine responsibility. Because you’re going to have fights just by the mere fact you live in close proximity to one another and the best way to resolve conflict is clear communication,” says Northampton resident Bill Dwight.
Look for Getoff’s offerings this summer on Your Stories. She will have more “Do You Want to be Right or Married?” workshops as well as ones that center on children titled “Beyond Because I Said So: How to Engage Cooperation with Children.”