A clinic at UAMS helps to keep relationships strong.
Dana & Graham Smith
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Dana and Graham Smith were dealt a pretty good hand in life. He had a successful business career going, they had a comfortable life in Chenal, she was a stay at home mom who raised their two children. They had married within a year of falling in love 28 years ago.
“And it's the excitement and after the excitement's gone, life just kind of happens,” said Graham.
But, after almost three decades they found themselves facing a stacked deck.“We weren't equipped to handle our personal life coming apart all at once,” he added. Demands of teenagers and Graham working 70-hour weeks left Dana feeling hopeless and defeated.
“More days where I felt like I'd be okay alone. There was so much conflict and turmoil, yeah, it was pretty rough,” said Dana.
They were on the brink. But unknown by the Smiths, Doctor Chelsea Wakefield had been hired from North Carolina by the UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute to open a couple’s center. She brought with her 19 years of psychotherapy and was the author of several books.
“When do you write?” asked THV11’s Craig O’Neill. "Whenever the mood strikes me," said Dr. Wakefield.
Dr. Chelsea Wakefield
Her specialty is long-term relationships. After the falling in love has fallen off, Dr. Wakefield said,“There's a flip in the enchantment to the disenchantment.”
When told of Dr. Wakefield's new clinic, the Smiths were open to giving her a try.
“Well I felt like our marriage was worth saving,” said Dana. “When the children left we really didn't know each other anymore,” added Graham.
Dr. Wakefield erased the past to give them a fresh look at the present. And like a coach diagramming plays she illustrates the different personas that come into a relationship. Dana quickly recognized her characters.
“Pleaser, mood manager, dutiful wife, loving mother, friend, but I also had rebel,” she said.
The doctor pointed out this cast of characters is constantly changing.
“In some way, you can say that you're never actually sleeping with the same person twice because we're constantly evolving,” said Dr. Wakefield. Every session opened Graham up a little bit more. “Dr. Wakefield allowed me to expand my thinking,” he said.
The doctor told us a relationship is a lot of learning the other person and learning to cooperate and co-regulate.
“The other problem in most relationships is that people don't ask enough questions,” she added.
Introduced to new relationship skills, the Smiths became more tolerant.“I often tell couples that they need to become curious instead of furious,” said the doctor.
Dana and Graham play cards and games, they read the same books. Hardly any TV and no phones. They are working with the notion that falling in love is easy, but a relationship means developing skills. “It does take skill and I think she has given us the tools to navigate the relationship,” said Dana. “It has deepened our relationship and taken us back to that excitement we had when we were in our twenties,” added Graham.
The story could end here with the Smiths relationship trending upward, but before leaving Craig had to know what the love doctor would recommend couples give each other this Valentines’ Day.
“Find out what would be most meaningful for your partner and do that or give them that,” said Dr. Wakefield.
And in a surprising development, Dr. Wakefield is now starting to see a lot of younger couples just getting started, who want to ensure they'll have a long-term relationship.
On Tuesday, February 13, Dr. Wakefield begins a special relationship enrichment series. It goes from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. for four successive Tuesday nights till March 6.