When you try to talk about the issues in your relationship, does the discussion devolve into an argument?
Has your partner promised to make changes, only to disappoint you by going back to his or her usual ways?
Do you fantasize about being with someone who would be a better fit with you?
Do you find yourself comparing your relationship to those of your friends and family members?
At the beginning of your relationship, you probably felt hopeful, had lots of good sex, felt appreciated and loved, and enjoyed your time together.
Now the excitement and optimism of the early days and months of your relationship have faded into the reality of dealing with your differences, work stress, work and relationship balance, and the possibly the responsibilities of parenting young children or teens. You may find that the sex is more infrequent, routine (even boring), and feels more like a duty than a pleasure. Your partner doesn’t know what’s important to you. And you don’t really care what’s important to him or her.
You thought your relationship would be close and warm. You’re disappointed and frustrated by the contrast between that expectation and the actual lack of connection and coldness in your relationship. When you talk with your partner, he or she vows to improve.
And things are better for awhile.
Then the coldness and lack of connection gradually creep back in, replacing your hope with tension and loneliness.
If you have kids, the tension affects them and they may act out because the tension is too much for them to handle, or they may work on being good enough to make up for the disappointment they sense between you and your partner in your relationship.
Your preoccupation with your relationship worries may drain your energy and concentration for work, your overall satisfaction, and your enjoyment of your children.
Anger and/or resentment may have infected your outlook, and you wonder if the two of you are doomed to always feel so lonely in the relationship.
Relationship highs and lows
Dissatisfaction in relationships is painful—and very common. A July 2017 Google search of “relationship dissatisfaction” yielded 17,300,000 results, so clearly you’re not alone!
When the bloom of your relationship begins to fade, your partner and you are probably not always focused on trying to be the best possible partners for each other. Instead of the fantasy romantic partner of your and your partner’s creation, you’re each left with reality, which may be very disappointing.
Common wisdom says that a new relationship’s romance lasts barely long enough to help one get through that first part of the relationship.
Then you’re faced with the tasks of getting to know the reality of who your partner is, finding empathy for each other, handling your differences, learning to compromise, and creatively solving problems.
Maybe you thought that the romance of the new relationship would last forever, if you’re with the right partner. When the romance begins to fade, you may chase the excitement of a new relationship, followed by another and another, about every six months, since that’s about how long the new relationship “bloom” lasts. The idea of the “shininess” of a relationship lasting forever, effortlessly, is an unrealistic expectation, and may lead to moving on to a new relationship without ever achieving real growth and depth in the relationship. Or you may stay in the untended and unsatisfying relationship, resenting your partner and fantasizing about a better one.
Here’s the truth: Satisfying relationships take work and tending on a regular basis. Life decisions and goals take ongoing discussion. No matter how much your partner loves you, he or she isn’t going to know whether or not you want to have kids and how you’d like to raise them, where you want to live, what your ideal work-life balance is, your financial philosophy, or how you’d like to manage the tasks of daily life without in-depth discussion. You can’t assume or expect your partner to know what you want and to want the same things. And he or she can’t expect that of you! Marriage counseling and couples counseling will help you tend to your relationship and have those important ongoing discussions in a productive way. I’ll help you learn to communicate what’s important to you and to really listen to what’s important to your partner.
What place does a relationship hold in a satisfying life? Is it the main event? Or not?
We, as humans, are social creatures with an inherent need to connect and relate. That need is a biological and emotional necessity. However, you will be disappointed if you look toward the people in your life today to provide the unconditional love and acceptance your parents were unable to give you. Your partner, friends, co-workers, and children can’t make up for what your parents weren’t able to give when you were a child. Unconditional love is what children should get. Adults who expect unconditional love will feel disappointed and alone in their relationship, because of this unrealistic expectation.
So the answer to the question about what place a romantic relationship holds is this: It isn’t the main event. It’s a bonus that may be part of the satisfying life you create for yourself.
Couples or marriage counseling can help you understand your part in what’s not working well in your relationship and to improve it. You, like most people who begin couples counseling or marriage counseling, may hope that the therapist will change your partner, because you believe that your partner’s shortcomings make the relationship unsatisfying. However, I’ve never seen a relationship where the problems belong to just one partner. I’ll help you look at and improve your part in the relationship. And if you and your partner are willing to do that and work hard in treatment, your relationship may be much more satisfying.
Counseling can help renew your relationship. Research from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists shows high levels of patient satisfaction in couples who participated in couples counseling. In fact, 93% reported learning more effective tools to solve their problems.
You can begin to identify your issues, learn empathy for each other, and develop communications strategies and skills.
If you and your partner only have one tool for communication, whether it’s the expectation that your partner will read your mind or it’s raising the volume of your argument, that’s what you’ll use in all situations requiring the two of you to negotiate your differences. That’s not going to be helpful!
In couples work, you’ll learn new tools, develop more nuanced ways of understanding your own and your partner’s psychology.
And you’ll develop and more adult understanding of love, so that it’s a verb, not a noun. It’s not something that someone is going to give you if you wait long enough. It’s what you do, because being warm and loving feels better than being cold! It’s nice for the people in your life, but the reason to love is because it feels better to you.
Dependency versus satisfaction
But how do I get happily-ever-after, you may ask? The fantasy of happily-ever-after, delivered by your partner is just that: a fantasy. The idea that someone other than you is responsible for giving you a satisfying life is a problem.
The good news is that making a satisfying life is your responsibility. How can that possibly be good news? You don’t have to depend on someone else for the quality of your life. Dependency is the idea that I need you to do something so I can feel good, and if you don’t do it right, I get to blame you. Well, that’s a recipe for disappointment!
When you fully understand that your satisfaction is your responsibility, it’s wonderful, because if your relationship ends, you’re okay because you still have the ability to make a satisfying life. And if your partner’s hit a rough patch, you’ll be compassionate about your partner’s struggle, but still be able to feel good. This is the basis for emotional autonomy, which is crucial for a successful relationship.
In treatment, you’ll learn the warmth and cooperation of partnership, so that you can talk about previously “hot button topics” such as sex and money in reasonable ways, instead of from an adversarial position.
No, because I respect your autonomy. Only you will know whether or not your relationship is satisfying to you, after you’ve spent time in treatment improving your part of it. I’ll work with you on your communication, thought process, and your expectations of your partner, yourself, and your relationship.
And I won’t referee your fights, because fighting in the session is not productive. I’m not here as judge, jury, and executioner, even though some couples would like me to be! It’s just not helpful. I’m only on the side of mental health. My job is to help you warm up and approach your differences as a couple in a calm, non-adversarial way, so that you will learn to make the decisions that are best for you and to take responsibility for those decisions.
What’s your success rate?
I don’t measure success in terms of “saving marriages.” I measure success in terms of making a satisfying life, and that covers a broad range of outcomes in treatment.
Many couples are able to warm up, communicate better, rekindle the romance, and find satisfaction together through therapy. That’s one type of success in treatment. And that’s the definition of success that many couples seek.
However, when you consider your values and goals in life, you may find that your partner and you want different things, that your goals aren’t compatible, that you can’t really make a satisfying life together. That can be as successful an outcome in couples therapy as staying together, because you can then move on to make satisfying separate lives, instead of trying to transform incompatibility into satisfaction. That square peg is never going to fit in that round hole!
Your partner and you may be better as co-parents than together, and your kids may feel better without the tension and conflict of your attempts to make the couple last. If you eventually develop a successful new relationship with a new partner, you’ll provide your kids a better relationship and love model than you would through miserably staying together “for the sake of the kids.” Better to be from a broken home than to be in a broken home.
If you decide that you want to separate, I’ll help you do that in a reasonable way that doesn’t involve blame and making your partner into the villain in your mind. You each have the right to be who you are, and can then move on without the destruction, bitterness, and anger of many breakups. Ending in a respectful way makes the healing process much less complicated.
Is couples therapy expensive?
Ignoring the problems in your relationship or continuing to use the same ineffective strategies while hoping for different results has a tremendous cost in unhappiness for you and your kids.
The stress of dealing with coldness, feeling alone in the relationship, and conflict can affect your and your family’s physical health.
And what about the preoccupation about your relationship problems that reduces your concentration and effectiveness at work, the missed days, all of which can lead to financial problems for you and your partner, and similar problems for your kids in school: lower grades because of anxiety and trouble concentrating, behavioral problems because they are so stressed.