Being able to see and understand what is actually going on in a troubled relationship from the inside is extraordinarily difficult. With our partner we try to negotiate a financial, a sexual, a practical and often a parental relationship against a backdrop of time and work pressures, extended family expectations, the needs of children and individual goals. On top of this, in an unconscious way, we often elicit in our partners the very behaviours we found so difficult in our parents. It is often the ghosts of painful imprints from the past that get in the way of us responding differently in the current relationship. Couple’s therapy can allow us to explore patterns of relating that get in the way of how we really want to be. Two common issues brought to couples therapy are discussed below.
Infidelity: "It was just sex". "I can never trust him again".
When infidelity occurs within a relationship and is discovered or disclosed, it usually says more about the nature and health of the relationship than it says about the relative merits of the "other woman" (or man). Was the woman unfaithful in order to retaliate against feeling overly controlled? To obtain the attention that she finds missing from her relationship? Was the man unfaithful because he felt excluded from the intimacy of family life since the arrival of the baby? Because he can't marry motherhood and sexuality in his mind? Because he felt overwhelmed by the increased responsibility? Infidelity can be a sign of distress within the individual or it can mean that communication is a major problem within the relationship, or both. If one could have adequately expressed one's needs and have them met, then one may not have gone elsewhere. There can be many places where the communication interaction can fail. Often the failure is at the very first step. One fails to recognize his/her own needs and so has not articulated them in the first place. Other times an expression of need is heard as a criticism and aggravates an already-troubled relationship leading to a further shutting-down in communication. Forgiveness cannot be achieved until trust is re-established. Trust cannot be re-established until the underlying problems within the relationship can be addressed and effective communication is established. Sometimes, effective communication cannot be established until one or both partners undergo some therapy to get in touch with how he/she is actually feeling. And all this work on the relationship and on oneself occurs against a backdrop of guilt and hurt: emotions which have their own course to run. Accepting and giving time for these emotions within the fragile and damaged relationship is fraught in itself. However, couples that come through such a major trauma as infidelity often learn an enormous amount about themselves, each other and the nature of relationships and are all the stronger for this.
"I love him, I guess. I'm just out of love with him".
This is usually a smokescreen for something deeper and more complex. Surprisingly, it is actually harder to manage the more complex problem than it is to whitewash complexity with "I just don't love him that way anymore". Love is in large part a choice, albeit often an unconscious choice. Closer examination often reveals that one feels negated, neglected or controlled by the other. Identifying what's not working and remedying the problem will usually bring a wave of emotion back too.
"He doesn't help enough in the house". "She's never happy".
Again, this is usually a smokescreen for something deeper and more complex. The need for control; the need for love, attention and understanding; the desire for physical intimacy may all be reduced to a fight over who will take out the garbage tonight. Couples therapy attempts to lift the lid on what might be going on under the presenting issues, as well as facilitating each person negotiating to get their needs met.