To initiate, be in and sustain a couple relationship of enduring quality is one of the biggest challenges faced by humans. It is testament to the lengths and integrity that some couples go to in seeking resolution to their problems that give therapists like myself a career!
Given the challenges of work, children, money, sex, familiarity, ageing, etc, is it any wonder we find staying together difficult and often wondering whether the grass is greener or simply to go it alone?
Wouldn’t it be so easy if it was as cut and dried as that; our partner irritates us to the nth degree, so much so that we feel we have nothing in common with them anymore, we have lost connection and dare we think it, fallen out of love with them. The build up of resentments have built a wall so high and so dense that on merely being in each other’s vicinity feels like the proverbial opposing magnetic forces.
This is often the make or break time; couples have tried everything within their power to sort it out themselves, being amazingly creative I hasten to add. But often it’s not enough, they are disconnected from each other and repeat the same self-defeating patterns that undermine the sprouting of any green shoots of emotional growth and development. It is often at this point that they resort to contact a couples therapist.
Oh dear, all seems so gloomy up to now, hopeless, stuck, a sense of not knowing what anyone wants anymore, often ‘loving’ each other intellectually but not ‘in love’ with each other, simply going through the physical motions of a life of tenuous ‘togetherness’.
Believe it or not, in these seemingly desperate and painful times, lies a wealth of unexplored possibilities that can give couples a new and invigorated relationship. The potential shifts that couples can make when they hit rock bottom are transformative to say the least. How? Because intimacy across the board is worked on, improved and prioritised.
One of the intimacy ‘biggies’ is communication, but let’s break that down a bit from being such an abstract term. All couples communicate at some level even if it’s descended into grunting and shouting, which is not useful most of the time. However, what they need help with, and this is my job, is to detect the emotional and feeling state underneath each side of their stories, their perspective, as they see things, as individuals, and help in expressing that.
In my experience growing the emotional tools that help expressing the unsaid is very empowering for both sides of a couples relationship. There’s a snag though, and this is where I come in; firstly, couples will only express the unsaid if it’s a safe environment free from blame and criticism and secondly it takes an attuned partner to actively listen beyond the content of what is being said to the emotional process behind the words.
This all sounds extremely hard work when one considers the ‘temperature’ of the relationship at the outset of therapy. Couples have a lot to say naturally, there has been a gradual build up and storage of resentments and over time it has become a habit to shift blame on to the other and lose sight of one’s own responsibility.
In time however, should the couple engage well in the therapy, I see that temperature drop along with defences and allowing for those green shoots of re-connection to emerge. This is often accompanied with the renewal of sexual intimacy, but as sex and relationship therapists like myself believe, sex or it’s quality will be an issue until the couple have worked on their emotional connecting first.