Often, when couples in distress finally make it to a therapist, it’s a hail Mary situation. They’re at the end of their rope, and they’re ready for separation or divorce. Sometimes they just make a perfunctory visit, not expecting the therapist to help them, but instead, expecting to clear their consciences. So they can feel like they’ve done everything they could before they throw in the towel.
When couples—or even just one of them—have already given up, it’s important for their therapist not to give them false hope. Even when both people want to try, it’s not always possible to make a positive change. New behaviors can feel awkward just because they’re different. Even when new ways of communicating and sharing intimacy to improve the relationship make perfect sense to the couple, sometimes old hurts get in the way.
Experimenting as Allies
The point is to suspend wishful thinking about couples in last-ditch distress. They need to have a relaxed enough situation that they don’t feel pressured to struggle through old bad feelings. It’s unpleasant to replay endless unhappy conflicts, and rarely produces a good outcome. Instead, couples need to understand that they are experimenting as allies. They need new options and ways to interact while taking their issues—both hidden and obvious—into consideration. It’s a complicated process.
Coming to a consensus about the issues and how to resolve them is key, then bridging preferences so both parties feel satisfied. They need to develop a plan. This takes time. Both need to understand that they need time to listen to one another, time to establish how they’d like to spend time going forward, time to work out the inevitable kinks that need adjusting in any plan.
Establishing New, Positive Patterns
Once a plan is in place, the couple has a sense of how they can go forward, and that a future together is not only possible, but could even be desirable. Again, this takes time. Couples need to give their plan a decent trial period. Making changes, even positive ones, can be difficult to stick to. Sometimes it’s easier to fall back into old patterns, even when those patterns are toxic.
An agreed-upon trial period will help couples establish new, positive patterns. And at the end of the trial period, they can evaluate if the changes are worth sticking together and going forward or not. It is often the case that the happiness couples seek is still elusive, even after adhering to a plan for months. Then it’s time to recognize that it might be better for both parties to move on.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact