Q: My husband and I have made a lot of progress in terms of our relationship.  We used to get into physical fights, as well as verbal attacks. Through counseling, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and each other.  We both have a long history of being abused, and we both come from alcoholic families.  Now that things are going better, why am I not happy?

A:  It is a major step to have gotten into counseling; obviously you have made considerable progress.  Couples often have hopes and expectations that if they resolve the “identify problem” in their lives such as physical abuse, or alcoholism, or parenting issues then they will be happy.

The reality, most of the time, is that a major and obvious relationship problem takes a lot of time and is the focus of considerable energy (often at the expense of other aspects of the relationship and life).

Perhaps you are finally at a time in your life when you have an opportunity to re-evaluate yourself, your marriage, and life in general.  It is difficult to look at the big picture when your life is in crisis on a daily basis.

Talk to your counselor and explore other areas in your life that you may want to change or modify.  A similar situation occurs when couples tell each other “we’ll really live and be happy when the children are grown,” and then are disappointed and confused when the children move out and they aren’t any happier.

You and your husband may need to get to know each other again as you rebuild your relationship.  Of equal importance is your individual growth and development as independent people aside from your relationship.

How do you feel about the rest of your life?  You may have inherited a lot of extra time now that you’re not spending most of your time fighting or being scared.  How are you using that time?  Does your life feel balanced among family work and play?  So you have time alone that you enjoy?  Do you have friends that you feel close to?  Do you want to spend the next 20 years of your life the way it is now?  If not, what would you want to add, delete, or change to feel more satisfied?

You also mentioned that you and your husband grew up with parents who were alcoholics.  Think back to your childhood.  Did it seem that everyday was a crisis or that one crisis cropped up as soon as another passed?  It is common for adults who grew up in alcoholic households to be used to a crisis lifestyle.

On one hand they long for a calm, peaceful life but it is so unfamiliar that they can initially perceive the calm as boring.  You may want to explore this issue with your counselor as well. Perhaps you need more challenge and stimulation now that the fighting is better under control.

If you don’t find excitement and challenge in healthy ways there may be a tendency to go back to the old familiar patterns of fighting.  Fighting will shake things up quickly; however, I suggest you find healthier, more satisfying ways to add excitement and challenge to your life if this is the case.  The first step is to know what you’re feeling, understand and examine where you are in your life now, and then you will be prepared to make some choices for the future.