Couples come to my office for many, many reasons. There are a bewildering array of issues and complaints that have become the focus of their difficulties and inevitably, at least when I meet them, they have run out of options and workable solutions for those difficulties.
When it comes to my understanding of the fundamental nature of problems encountered by couples, there is one primary and repeating theme I tend to see more than others. Most generally, this theme is expressed in the complaint of one of the partners (occasionally both) , that the other just does not understand them.
There is a wide range in the degree to which people seem interested in getting to know who they are having a relationship with; in finding out and inquiring as who the other is. Beyond the basic and easy understanding of their partner, many people seem to have very limited interest in understanding even those they say they love.
In the sense that I am using it, for me to be understood by the other refers to the clear sense that the other is making the effort and taking the time to discover and be curious about who I am; what I think, believe, enjoy, hate, aspire to, recoil from, dream about, wish for, regret, and so on. Or expressed another way, to be truly interested in who I am, as I am.
The extent to which people actually want to be known by another seems to vary to a considerable degree. While this desire seems to be present at least to some degree for all of us, some are relatively uninterested, while others are hungry for it.
When there is a marked imbalance in this regards (i.e., one of the partners eagerly wishes to be known by the other while that other is only minimally interested in doing this), then invariably the relationship suffers.
The hunger for such intimacy in those who want it should not be underestimated. Neither should we underestimate the degree of dissatisfaction that will begin to mount when such wishes are not met.
It is surprisingly hard for a couple struggling with this issue to identify this difficulty and straighten it out. That is the downside.
The upside however, is that when a couple does address this in a constructive and respectful manner, the results are uplifting and powerful. This struggle for intimacy seems to me, to be the most important work of all.