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Road Atlas or GPS?

Let’s say you’re going on a road trip and you need directions, which do you prefer: a road atlas or GPS? If you’re under 30, you might ask, “What’s a road atlas?” I get it. A road atlas is kind of old school. I used to be an over the road truck driver and I’ve used both. In the big picture, both will take you where you want to go. But, each has its strengths, depending on what you need.

If getting to a specific place is the key, GPS is the tool. But you need a destination, better still, an address. Tell GPS the exact location and (when it’s working right) it will show you the shortest, most direct route. It’s pretty amazing technology.

But, what if the journey matters more to you than the destination? What if you want the scenic route or points of interest along the way? Get out the road atlas. You can see the whole map and choose how you want to go and where you want to stop enroute. You can change your route along the way. A road atlas gives you more freedom on the trip.

As a couples therapist, everyday I see couples looking for direction. Sometimes, they’re not even sure where they’re headed, much less how to get there—debating, disagreeing, arguing, often the same problems over and over. They end up exhausted and lost. “We’re going in circles! We aren’t getting anywhere.”

Sometimes, in real distress, they call me. “Just give us directions. Tell us what to do, ‘how to go.’ Just ‘get us there.’ We want the shortest route. We want answers. Just fix us.”

These are the “GPS couples.”

That makes sense, but GPS isn’t always best.

Let’s say a couple is building a house (one of the trickiest ventures any couple can ever attempt). It’s a pretty stressful trip, with plenty of places for head butting and hurt feelings. Maybe they disagree on where to put the fireplace (or whether they need one), the color of the carpet or the landscaping in the back yard. And every time they disagree, they just spin up. Lots of heat, very little light. Each time, it goes south faster and farther. Soon, they can’t agree on anything. They’re rubbing each other raw and the relationship is getting painful...not a happy story. They might look for a therapist to help them “negotiate” or “communicate” better, which means, “Tell us which way to go. Get us on the right path. Fix it for us.”

They’re looking for GPS directions.

But, maybe, in marriage, the journey is the destination.

Maybe a road atlas would be better.

For the home builders, this conflicted couple is missing each other. It’s almost like they’re on separate journeys. They need to slow down and “get” their partner: what’s important to them and what their journey is like. This is about empathy and interest. Each needs their partner to hear them and see them and value their travel. That takes time. It takes patience and understanding. It’s about the journey and not just a destination. John Gottman likes to say, “Postpone persuasion.” Don’t worry about the “final answers.” Take the time to hear and understand—fully. Be more curious than critical—and you will become more like partners and less like opponents.

This is the therapy that I do. It’s called Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). This is what happens in a Hold Me Tight®️couples workshop. It’s “road atlas” work, not GPS. When you and your partner focus more on the journey than the destination, you may still disagree on details. (Actually, disagreeing is okay. Conflict happens, but conflict need not be combat.) But, if you savor the journey with the one you love, little details remain little and, believe it or not, the destination takes care of itself.

Safe travels.


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