In today’s busy lives with increasing pressures and demands on time, as well as coping with the changes the current global pandemic brings, it’s easy to let your relationship slip down the list of priorities, take it for granted and forget to nurture it. Problems that were once small or insignificant accumulate and become bigger, causing tension and arguments. Often games, dramas and smoke screens become strategies used for surviving an unhappy union. Misunderstandings, power battles and communications breakdown are part of daily life. Couples fear addressing their issues in case it leads to further conflict. Many don’t know what to do or how to ‘fix it’ so they avoid raising the subject or deny there’s a problem.
As a relationship therapist, I’ve found that by the time couples come for counselling they have been through considerable turmoil. For many, seeking help is a last resort in the hope to salvage any remnants of their connection. For others divorce or separation seems to be the only way out of a union that’s gone sour.
If you’ve decided to separate, you may be interested in a Collaborative Lawyer, where both parties are able to reach a resolution without court involvement. Resolution First for Family Law has a list of qualified solicitors throughout the UK offering this service and provide very good advice on how to help you through the divorce, especially if you have children http://www.resolution.org.uk
Not all couples are clear about separating, preferring to let things bumble along. You may however be aware that the way you relate has changed. You may have noticed that you have stopped discussing important subjects or become more secretive. You may be withholding affection towards one another or been experiencing intimacy issues.
Consciously acknowledging there is a relationship problem may feel scary and even challenging. Being clear that you want something to change is a good starting point, even if you don’t know how. Exploring the underlying causes and facing the difficulties that surface will help you maintain healthy levels of communication and a more fulfilling connection.
Anyone I’ve worked with will know that I like analogies, and this is one of my favourites – a relationship is like a garden: you can have a beautifully landscaped garden with flowers, trees and shrubs, a sweeping lawn and a paved patio; if you sit back to admire the view and do nothing, soon it will become unkempt and overgrown. A garden needs constant care; the lawn needs cutting regularly, the flowerbeds weeding and the shrubs pruning. With regular care and attention, a garden grows, matures and develops. A relationship is no different, except it’s harder at times to notice the weeds creeping up.
If your garden is overgrown and in a mess do you move house?
Before you throw everything away, especially if there are children involved, explore ways of solving your relationship problems. It may not be a quick or easy ride and your destination will be unclear. As you embark on your journey you may think that only a miracle can save you – I’ve seen miracles happen, couples change and relationships blossom once again.
Acknowledging what isn’t working for you and having the courage to face the issues can be difficult at times. Especially as some of the first signs are often other seemingly unrelated symptoms:
- Excessive eating and/or drinking
- Over committed to work, ie. workaholic
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Chronic fatigue
Mental, physical or emotional problems that may appear unrelated are often masking a deeper underlying cause. It can feel more socially acceptable or less fearful to deal with the symptoms than confronting your relationship problems.
I frequently see women who come for sessions because their husbands or partners have sent them to ‘get fixed’, usually relating to sex and low libido. On one occasion, a husband wanted me to hypnotise his wife to want sex more often; the wife said he wanted sex three times a day and if they skipped a day he’d be like a bear with a sore head. The husband ended up having therapy sessions for sex addiction.
In many cases women reject affection from their partners because they believe it will lead to sex. The man consequently becomes frustrated and the woman irritated, leading to tension and arguments. This issue is not exclusive to heterosexual couples either; I’ve worked with plenty of gay couples (male & female) who experienced the same issues. The first step in this situation is to take sex off the menu – that’s right, no sex for 2-4 weeks, and plenty of attention, affection and touching.
Women like to be nurtured and feel appreciated and men like to feel needed. Men can easily become sexually aroused and have sex without the preamble women often need. Think of it as lighting a barbecue – men are like a gas barbecue, switch it on and it’s ready to cook the steak; whilst women are more like a conventional barbecue, they want to light the coals, nurture the flame and season the steak.
I also see men sent by their wives or partners to get their premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction ‘sorted’. One time I saw a relatively young man who was struggling with premature ejaculation. On exploring what was going on, I found out that his girlfriend would frequently reject his sexual advances and eventually say, ‘go on then, but make it quick’… so he did.
Recognising the part we each play in a relationship requires honesty from both parties – to yourself and each other, and acceptance that you’ve both played a role in your relationship problems. Avoid statements such as: ‘the problem with you is…’As much as you may believe you have all the answers, and that what you think, say and do is correct – after all you are right; if only your loved one could see that he/she is messed up; and if only he/she would seek help the relationship would be so much better, perhaps even perfect. Blaming your partner for your unhappiness or communication breakdown doesn’t get you anywhere.
Get a notebook (one each), pen or pencil and some coloured pens will be helpful too. Writing in your notebook helps you to process what you’ve been storing in your mind, probably for some time. It gives you the opportunity to review your thoughts, feelings and behaviour patterns with more clarity. It helps you create space in your mind for new thoughts and ideas to develop. It also means you can monitor your progress more effectively.
WARNING: Be mindful of promises made to keep the peace. Before you agree to anything, check first if it feels right for you and if it’s achievable. If it doesn’t, say so, and explore what you could do instead.
There is always another way of reaching the desired outcome. Take ownership of your share of the things that aren’t working and equally don’t take all the blame either. Most importantly, make time for your relationship.
- Have you ever not brushed your teeth because you didn’t have time?
- Or not dressed, slept or eaten because you didn’t have time?
- Why is taking time to nurture your love partnership any different?
We jump on the rollercoaster of life, get sucked into work, home and family demands and forget that we are humans and not just one of the cogs of modern day society. Now is your chance to start making your relationship an important part of your life and not just a fashion accessory.
Let’s make a start right now. In your notebooks and in your own space, write the answer to the following questions:
- What attracted you to your partner when you first met?
- What has changed?
- What issues have gone unresolved that trigger conflict?
- What would you like instead?
If you would like further support, call Carla Devereux on 0121 745 9044 to book an appointment.