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Sheryl Paul Headshot

The Grass Is Always Greener Syndrome

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I had a client last year who, in her own words, suffered terribly from the "grass is always greener" syndrome. She had initially called me about two months before her wedding and couldn't stop crying throughout her session because she was so tortured by the thought that she was making a mistake. She had been with her fiance for about five years but had struggled almost from the beginning with wondering if she was with the "right" man.

At the root of the problem was her inability to let go of an ex-boyfriend. I'm not sure I can even qualify this other man as a boyfriend as he never fully committed to her. In fact, from the beginning, he frequently had women on the side. He lied to her, cheated on her, and was, in a word, a jerk. And even though she knew that he wasn't a good partner and that he would only bring her misery, even though he had broken her trust and her heart repeatedly, she couldn't stop thinking about him. Sure, he was witty and smart, but that wasn't what hooked her. The hook was the sex.

She had had great sex with him and had never experienced the equivalent with her husband. And although we talked repeatedly about the theory that great sex often comes at a great cost when it's with someone who's unavailable and that, in fact, great sex is often the result of being with someone who's unavailable, she couldn't cut the ties with this other guy and give her husband a chance. And the truth is that she had never given her husband a fair shot. From the beginning, her heart and mind and body were still attached (addicted to) the jerk. Equating sex with love, she was completely convinced that she would never feel in love with her husband.

Let me paint the picture of each guy:

Jerk:

Cheater, liar, obsessed with sex, never able to commit to her, broke her heart repeatedly, still contacts her and flirts with her even though they're both married.

Husband:

Responsible, kind, honest, loves her completely, willing to work on their relationship, funny, sweet, sensitive, creative, romantic, stable profession, salt of the earth.

Hmmm ...

Her situation was frustrating, to say the least. Here she was, married to a wonderful man, and she couldn't see the forest for the trees; she only had sights for the jerk. And not only was she with a great guy, they lived in a picturesque town, both had stable jobs, enjoyed spending time together, laughed a lot, had similar interests, and were truly fond of each other. But as long as she was hooked on the other guy, she wasn't allowing herself even the chance to fall in love with her husband and embrace their lovely life. She wasn't present in her life at all and, as a result, the beauty of it was passing her by.

Then, for a brief window of time, she was blessed with a reprieve. For three days, the film of the other guy was peeled away and she truly saw her life as it was. Gratitude replaced the negative script. She realized how lucky she was to be married to such a great guy and to be living this charmed life. For the first time in years, she felt happy. It was as if the duality of the "grass is always greener" syndrome merged into a single vision, allowing her to be present and to see, really see, the life she was living.

And then, as quickly as it opened, the window shut. She was back to ruminating about the other guy, back to nitpicking her husband, back to crafting escape fantasies for how she could remove herself from her marriage. Back to avoiding the core feelings that were contributing to her "grass is always greener" syndrome: the grief of letting go of being single, the fear of growing up fully into adulthood, the uncertainty that precedes the acceptance that life is mysterious and without certainties or guarantees, the fear of allowing herself to surrender into the intimacy that her husband was offering, the refusal to take responsibility for her feelings, whether of grief and loss, her sexuality, or her fear.

Is it possible that -- as she constantly agonized over it -- she just didn't love her husband and never would? Of course it's possible, but it's not likely. And she would never find out the truth as long as she remained obsessed with the jerk. Something in her was drawn to her husband from the beginning. In fact, she was the one who spotted him across the room, thought he was cute, and moved toward him. Something inside of her was attracted to his goodness and his capacity for commitment and real love. I would venture to say that it was something healthy inside of her that was drawn to a healthy man and something unhealthy that was drawn to an unhealthy man. But no matter how many times we discussed it, she would still come back to the same question: Maybe I just don't love my husband.

Happily, most of my clients are able to work through the issues that prevent them from embracing their partner and their life. They're able to address the fear, process the grief, and ultimately take responsibility for the thoughts that are creating their anxiety and causing them to project the negativity onto their partner. It takes a lot of work, but the efforts are well worth it because they inevitably are able to embrace the goodness and blessings of the life they're living. As for this client, the outcome remains to be seen. I can only hope that through a commitment to a process of self-responsibility and the gift of grace, she'll be able to appreciate the wonderful man and potential for a great marriage that stand before her.