By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT

I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we're done and we might as well be dead,
But I'm only a cockeyed optimist
And I can't get it into my head
~Rodgers and Hammerstein - South Pacific

Dreams! Most of us chase them: to live in them, to emulate them, to be a part of them. Who doesn't want to experience the American dream, be part of a dream team, or live happily ever after? What's it like when two people contemplate marriage? For many they are rapt in the vision of life's fulfillment. She (or he) is my dream partner, my soul mate. We are truly committed to each other.

After the passage of time, the vision may shift. Instead of fulfillment, disappointment may set in. The dream begins to fray and nightmares begin to creep in. How does this happen? There is no single answer, but it is not uncommon for one or both partners to begin to measure the other by the "idealized fantasy" of what a partner "should" be. Rarely do people live up to such high expectations. This seems to be a crossroads where some couples adapt to the reality of life and, in a way, become cockeyed optimists. They see difficulties as challenges to overcome and find ways to work together.

Others may seek to find the lost fantasy elsewhere, such as affairs, addictions (to substances, work, sports, etc.), or other distractions. The reality becomes a basis for pessimism. The nightmare becomes real. There seems to be no way out but to "get out." Is this truly the end?

While it may seem hopeless, life does go on. New opportunities will arise. New dreams will be born. But will the parties have learned anything from the past? Alfred Adler, a founder of the theory of Individual Psychology, believed optimism was key in attaining success in life. Achieving a place in the social fabric is the motivating drive in development. He believed that focus on the future was the best predictor of success. A sense of reality, optimism in the future, and commitment to face challenges leads to a life fulfilled. Reach for the stars, but never forget the blessings of Earth.

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