Conventional wisdom among therapists is that couples tend to wait to do couples’ counseling until it’s too late to save the relationship. That may or may not be true, but it misses the point. Whether the relationship can or should be saved, dissolved, or morphed into something completely different, couples’ counseling can allow you to be friends to each other, to help yourselves and each other through a difficult time, to come through it less damaged than you would have otherwise, and to learn about yourself and about how relationships work and don’t work.
Work is the operative word, and we’ve all been told that relationships are work. But often in relationships we neglect the work on ourselves that is necessary to keep our own mental health and happiness (which directly contributes to the quality of the relationship). M. Scott Peck, in his wonderful 1978 bestseller The Road Less Traveled, speaks of each person being on an individual journey in life, and relationships serving to help us on that journey. In a relationship, your work is doubled in that while you must tend to the relationship, you must also continue tending to yourself.
This double work is often what brings couples into my office. Perhaps one person’s inner conflicts are creating problems for the relationship. Or there are conflicts in the partners’ respective concepts of how the relationship should work. Now we have two kinds of conflict affecting the relationship. As the conflicts interact, so does each partner’s individual baggage have unforeseen effects and influences on the other. Often it takes a third party to observe the interaction, to get to know the people, and to offer a diagnosis of what is really going on and offer suggestions for how things might be resolved.
Some things are givens: one partner is older, and one is younger; one has a high libido, the other’s is low; one is in recovery, the other drinks; one needs alone time, while the other hates being alone. Any number of basic issues need negotiation if two people are to engage in a committed relationship. And does each partner understand the rules and expectations of the relationship in the same way? Probably not. Avoiding talking about these things and not arriving at an understanding only adds to deep-seated resentments, self-delusion, and poisonous secrets.
When I work with couples, it takes some time to get to know them as people and time for the various conflicts in the relationship to be revealed. Sometimes I must act as translator, or rewrite man, so that issues can be boiled down to their bare bones and that negotiating positions can be understood. Often it takes time to realize what is negotiable and what is not, what is possible and what is not. My hope is that you will give yourselves time for this process of revelation. It will allow each of you to proceed in your own individual path, possibly together, but continuing to access and enhance the support and love for each other that first brought you together.
If you are ready to explore these or any other issues with a caring, experienced therapist, please call or email David Bowman to arrange for a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Your mental health is worth it. Call (323) 561-2361.
Photo credit: Stanley Dai UNSPLASH