As a working therapist within my private practice this is a question that I often get asked by couples or individuals that feel their relationship is not as it should be, or even that it has gone past the point of no return.
My next question may be seen as flippant or inflammatory but bear with me. "What makes you think that you'd like the relationship to be as it was before?' Let me explain: often in the first throes of romance and love (and yes, no matter what age you are), people will tend to idolise their new partners and for many different reasons.
Perhaps to impress friends or colleagues, they may ‘gloss over' the less perfect side of their partners. They may exaggerate their partners' good points to their parents or even their own children up to the point where they are no longer able to be objective and analytical of the relationship.
They might feel that to confess concerns, worries or even irritation over their partner's ways or habits, after painting them as the perfect partner, will make them look disloyal or even foolish. In a world jam packed full of ‘couples' being a ‘single' can sometimes feel a lonely place. Therefore they ignore them, they put them on ice and carry on with their lives together, often for many years before, eventually there is a catalyst that blows it all sky high.
‘What happened to true love?' you might ask. Well, at the risk of sounding like a cliché, love is blind. And we choose to make it that way, no matter how subconsciously and it is often that selective view we have built of our partners, that make the trauma so much bigger when it hits.
For instance, the fact that two people got together because one was cheating on a current partner often gets brushed over. The thought that another person might enjoy the same emotionally charged, forbidden relationship with your partner at some point in the future is too much to bear. You don't want to think about it, talking about might make it more of a possibility so you ignore it and any signs that it might be happening in the hope that it might just go away.
Now that is just one example, it could be that you never could stand the way your partner eats crisps, at the beginning it was surprising and a bit embarrassing, over time it moves from being irritating, to the point where you would swear they were doing it purely to wind you up. From one extreme to the other.
Ok, so it is ‘broken'. At this point you have two options; on paper it's simple, stay together and work at it or split up and go your separate ways. Excellent, now bring in living arrangements, mortgages, kids, shared friends, debt and suddenly nothing is simple anymore.
How will counselling help me? First point, two people do not need to attend counselling to achieve personal benefits in their relationship, be it marriage, a same sex relationship or cohabiting. If both of you choose to attend and are committed to change then all well and good. But if it's just you that seems to be feeling this despair then you are the one that needs to help yourself before you can start to look at the relationship and what needs to be addressed. It may be that your partner will join occasional sessions if you and they wish, or they may wish to see their own therapist, either way, movement in the relationship and out of this ‘stuck place' is a sure result.
How does it work? Relationship counselling takes more than the relationship in to account: what are your beliefs about relationships in general? What is ‘true' to you? What matters to you and what doesn't so much? What was your experience, who ‘taught' you to be in a relationship and how was that for you? Much to think about but together we will build a detailed picture of your relationship and by then your solution will usually be fairly clear.
Throughout this process, we will set goals and formulate an action plan to achieve what you want for your relationship. At this point it is prudent to say that the solution you reach through therapy may not be the same one that you decided in the heat of anger or through years of dutiful resentment.