By attending counselling, you give your relationship the best chance of being improved. Many relationships can be saved, but not all.
The most important predictor of the durability of a relationship is the level of motivation of each of the individuals to continue the relationship.
If both are really keen to make it work, chances are they will find a way to resolve their differences so they can stay together. If one of them is not keen to continue, the relationship is probably doomed.
How do you tell if your partner does not want to continue?
First they might tell you directly that it is over. More likely, they are not that clear. They do not want to hurt your feelings. It is usually over, however, if your partner says words like, “I can’t see us staying together” or “This relationship is not working for me.”
If you both really want to make the relationship work, an experienced counsellor can help. She will identify what each of you need to change and devise a plan to help you make the changes. This would involve addressing any distortions each of you carry from childhood, improving your communication skills and educating you about the nature of a healthy, functioning relationship. If she does her job well, she will also foster your motivation to make the changes.
I can remember only one case where the couple was highly motivated to stay together but did not. They had been married for 6 years and loved each other deeply. They agreed not to have children but the husband had changed his mind. Neither wanted to force their needs on the other so they parted as friends.
I have had cases where the differences between the couple were great. One might be quiet, withdrawn and sensitive and the other loud, argumentative and expressive, especially during an argument. These couples grind each other down so far that little self-esteem is left. Even so, they can still be helped if they really want to stay together.
Of course, this is not an easy journey. When they feel so personally diminished, they are desperately fighting to retain their individual sense of self. This desperation only makes their arguments more poisonous and vicious. They get caught in a spiral of verbal abuse and mutual damage. Only a brutal intervention will stop their destruction.
In such cases, I confront the couple with the need to begin planning their separation. I make it clear that this is the only outcome if they continue their destructive ways.
I spend a session on the separation plan. Sometimes the planning process can be a relief. One or both can see that separation is not as bad as they thought. Separating can be a way forward. In this case, the motivation for staying together disappears and the process of creating an amicable separation begins.
But in other cases, the separation plan helps to motivate them to stay together. They foresee problems with caring for the children if they are separated. Financial struggles loom with the need for two residences. Either might be afraid of being alone.
The increased motivation helps them rein in their abusive behaviour. They are taught to listen to each other so they better understand their partner’s perspective.
Arguments never achieve any constructive outcome so I insist the couple completely stop arguing. That includes giving up any nasty, snide or sarcastic remarks. At the same time, I show them how to disagree in a constructive, calm way so the specific dispute can be solved.
Most couples find counselling challenging. They are forced to confront their dysfunctional behaviour. They have to let go of getting their own way and give up being right. They have to be mindful and vigilant, not of the over-reactions of their partner, but of their own feelings and reactions.
If they accept the need for change and put in the necessary effort, they transform themselves and transform their relationship. This is a great feeling. Being in a relationship where mutual respect, love and teamwork is the order of the day increases their individual self-esteem and their trust in the durability of the relationship.
If you need couples counselling our team at North Brisbane Psychologists is here to help. Book an appointment today.