Dear Karen Kaye,
How do couples go from starting out as soulmates and end up as cellmates?

Dear Lilly,
Both cellmates and soulmates give the same underlying message to each other, “Why can’t you love me like you used to in the beginning?” While they want to recreate that “loving moment in time” that once was, they literally push each other away through neediness, demands, and expectations unmet.

In the early sessions of couples’ counseling, it isn’t easy to decipher who will choose to be cellmates and who will choose to be soulmates. Most couples begin similarly: alienated and argumentative. Where the two types of couples differ is that soulmates eventually recognize the futility of the patterns they have been committed to; while cellmates still receive a “payoff” in the constant battle, and are usually more interested in being “right” or winning the fight rather than resolving issues.

In the actual sessions, it’s like following a tennis match, or point – counterpoint. The couple rarely listens to each other. Instead, they hear only the sound of their own voice or concentrate on what they are about to say in retort. The two “one-up” each other with no end in sight. I call this the “blame game,” and believe me, no one wins! All they are doing is allowing unconscious patterns to resurface from childhood, and they act-out whatever is on the “tape” (inside their minds).

This is where cellmates and soulmates take a different road. Cellmates continue this useless, unconscious cycle over and over and somehow still get that “payoff,” or they wouldn’t continue to participate.

Soulmates on the other hand, eventually become conscious of the pattern and are willing to stop the cycle, which takes honesty and ownership of their part. They are willing to accept all of the ups and downs of their relationship without having to run. Finally, soulmates know that the very nature of their relationship is to learn about themselves and each other when they have a “breakdown,” and use the results as a learning lesson.

Many thanks,
Karen L. Kaye LMHC