Statistics show that we are experiencing the lowest rates of divorces since 1973 according to figures published by the Office of National Statistics. This is linked to the gradual decline in marriages as over the last 20 years more people choose to cohabit.
Although divorce rates are at their lowest, the most popular time for separations or divorces is January, with the highest being amongst people in their 40s. Divorce applications have been made easier with the launch of online submissions in April 2018. In an article by BBC News, 455 online applications were submitted during this Christmas and New Year https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46761442
At Christmas the financial burden increases, tensions rise, drink levels escalate and the cracks of a neglected relationship begin to stand out like a punk at the Queen’s tea party. Some couples decide to stay together for the sake of the children but choose to do nothing about the conflicts that arise regularly.
A new year brings the idea of new beginnings. Separation or divorce becomes an appealing option and perhaps the easiest choice you see at this point. It’s possible that going separate ways is the right way forward if the relationship has passed its sell-by date, but before you make any major decisions, it’s best to find out if you can solve your relationship problems without breaking up.
In our busy lives with increasing pressures and demands on our time it’s easy to let our 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, arguments and unhappiness. Often games, dramas and smoke screens are the tactics used for surviving an unhappy union. Misunderstandings, arguments, power battles and communication breakdown become the menu of the day. 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 counselling therapist, I’ve found that by the time couples come for marriage counselling their relationship has 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 seems to be the only way out of a union that’s gone sour. If you’ve decided to separate, you may interested in a Collaborative Lawyer. Resolution First for Family Law has a list of qualified solicitors offering this service and provide very good advice on how to help you through the separation, 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 notice 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 fulfilling connection.
A relationship is very much 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 and develops. A relationship is no different, except it’s harder at times to notice the weeds spreading.
- If your garden is overgrown and in a mess do you move house?
I’m inviting you to explore how to solve your relationship problems without breaking up. I will guide you on a journey from the depths of conflict to the heights of intimate relating. It may not be a quick or easy ride and your destination will be determined by the effort you’re willing to make. As you start, you may think that only a miracle can save you – I’ve seen miracles happen and 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 that a relationship needs attention are often other seemingly unrelated symptoms:
- Excessive eating and/or drinking
- Over committed to work
- 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 marriage 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 wants sex three times a day and if we skip a day he’s like a bear with a sore head’. In this particular case, the husband ended up having therapy sessions for sex addiction. Other intimacy related cases are usually related to some issue that has been allowed to fester.
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.’
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.
The blogs that follow in the coming months are a compilation of the work I do with couples in relationship counselling sessions. I’ll take you through a five-step process on how to solve the most common relationship problems, deal with your fears and throw out unhelpful patterns of behaviour. Each step has a set of exercises to guide you into a deeper understanding of how and why you and your partner are experiencing conflict.
I use a combined therapeutic approach from different theoretical methods, which I will present here in a simplified way and illustrate with case studies (all identifying features have been changed to protect client confidentiality).
There will be clear instructions when to do the exercises on your own and when it’s appropriate to share with your partner. You will have the opportunity to look at what changes are essential for you to meet your needs, and potentially find a common ground to move forward in harmony and with renewed intimacy. The exercises are structured into three parts:
- About You– designed to help you discover what triggers you, how you feel, your thoughts, needs and desires, i.e. what you think about you;
- About Your Partner– designed to help you develop an understanding of how you perceive your partner, their actions, their thoughts and their behaviours, i.e. what you think about him/her;
- About You & Your Partner– gives you both the opportunity to share and discuss your insights with each other.
I have included Warning signs along the way to help you spot possible areas of conflict. There are also Hints & Tips sections that give you useful techniques to apply when working on an exercise. There are many Self Reflection Time slots designed to encourage you to reflect on what’s going on for you and the insights you’re gaining.
Some sections may appear to be more applicable to you, whilst others you may feel more resistant to face. I suggest you read it all as you may find some hidden gems you weren’t anticipating. Avoid the temptation to skip a section because it triggers too many wounds. They will still be there until you deal with them, whether you do it now or in years to come. Be prepared and willing to put in the work, do the exercises suggested and you will reap the benefits of a healthier and more fulfilling relationship. The levels of change that can happen are dependent on you, your efforts and what you want. I’m offering you the ‘tools’, the rest is up to you.
- If the wounds are too deep and painful, I suggest you seek the help of a qualified therapist.
You will need your own 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.
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. It takes two to make a relationship and two to break it up. Take ownership of your share of the things that aren’t working and equally don’t take all the blame either.
Be patient – hard work, sweat and tears will pay off in the end. Set aside time every day to work through the exercises, give yourself the space to think and feel where you are in your life and work together with your partner when guided to do so. Clients often complain they don’t have time to do the exercises. Not making time is an excuse and an avoidance strategy.
- 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.
Relating involves people, emotions and presence of being regardless of marital status, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. At times I use the word marriage to refer to relationships but it encompasses all forms of love partnerships without any legal attachment. Whoever you are and whatever your life situation is, I hope you enjoy the journey.
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 personality traits did you like most about him/her?
We will explore the above questions further and look at how we fall in love, and why it seems to go wrong once the honeymoon period is over.