Many people have amazing careers, great friendships, awesome connections with their kids, and yet compared to their other relationships, their relationship with their spouse is barely good enough. What is the reason for the disparity? One contributing factor might be linked to Dr. John Gottman’s marriage and relationship research which found that couples wait an average of six years of significant unhappiness in their marriage before seeking help.
This means that by the time the average couple sits down with a relationship professional, six years of resentment, frustration, and hurt has likely eroded trust, contributed to feelings of disconnection, and possibly impacted their commitment to one another. Such a challenging environment not only impacts a relationship’s ability to adapt and grow, it can lead to even more significant problems such as, an affair or disruptive anger outbursts, which may eventually lead to death of the relationship itself.
If you believe your relationship might be experiencing disconnection, trust issues, infidelity, or increased conflict, please consider the following questions:
ARE WE A TEAM? AT THE SAME TIME, AM I FREE TO BE FULLY ME AND VALUED FOR IT AND ARE YOU FREE TO BE FULLY YOU AND VALUED FOR IT?
AM I AM ABLE TO ESTABLISH EXPECTATIONS OF OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU? ARE YOU ABLE TO ESTABLISH THEM WITH ME?
ARE YOU ACCOUNTABLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS? DO YOU BELIEVE I AM ACCOUNTABLE FOR MINE?
CAN I TURN TO YOU FOR SUPPORT? IF YOU ARE HURTING, UPSET, OR AFRAID WILL YOU COME TO ME?
DO YOU GIVE ME THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT? DO YOU BELIEVE I AM GENEROUS IN MY ASSUMPTIONS OF YOU?
If you feel shaky or concerned about some of your responses to these questions, you may have identified potential problem areas in your relationship. Rather than risk becoming more distant and discontent with your partner, couples can often benefit from a marriage therapy intervention where both partners work with a counselor to uncover and repair their areas of disconnect, breaks in trusts, and the interaction patterns between them that are not working. In relationship counseling, couples learn tools to better understand each other, improve their communication, and create a relationship more rooted in friendship and intimacy.
If you believe your relationship might benefit from additional tools and support, please contact Cambium Counseling.
+ A Relationship Repair Story
The story that follows is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. The story is intended to be informative about the types of issues people bring to counseling and how those issues are effectively addressed. This story reflects real themes and treatment processes used by the counselor in her work with real clients.
Sara (32) and Greg (34) were struggling to get on the same page. The couple had been married for two and half years and together for six years. In the past, their shared passions for the outdoors, running, and dogs had led created a life of love, connection, and fun. And yet for the past year and half they found themselves constantly in conflict and out of sync on significant topics including, money, sex, children, career choices, and their relationship as a whole. They were seeking counseling because Sara had confronted Greg and told him if their marital issues were not immediately addressed, she was considering separation and possibly divorce. Greg did not want to come into counseling but he wanted a divorce even less.
The counselor began their first session together by inviting the couple to share how they met, how their relationship grew, their engagement and marriage, as well as, what they appreciated about the other. Then the counselor had Sara and Greg speak to their individual strengths that they brought to their marriage as well as, their areas of challenge. Finally, the couple identified their goals for counseling and their level of openness to the counseling process. During this process it was clear the couple was not on the same page. Greg advised he was 80% on board with pursuing their goals as a couple while Sara advised she was at 40% which surprised Greg. When the counselor invited Sara to share more about her perspective, Sara shared she had been suffering and feeling disconnected from Greg for a year and half which had accounted for twenty five percent of their total relationship together.
By the time Sara was bringing up divorce with Greg, Sara believed she had tried several strategies to get through to Greg that she was unhappy and she believed she had been totally unsuccessful because nothing had changed between them and she continued to suffer in their relationship. The counselor explained to the couple that they were ahead of schedule in terms of addressing their relationship concerns. According to relationship and marriage expert Dr. John Gottman, couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy before getting help which means they have six years to build up feelings of disconnection, distrust, and resentment before they begin the important work of learning to resolve differences in effective ways.
Greg reported he was completely blindsided when Sara brought up divorce. He explained that he too had identified they were in a funk for a while although, how long they had been in funk he was not sure. Greg believed that this funk was a part of the marriage cycle- there would be ups and there would downs similar to what he witnessed in his parent’s marriage. His parents did not seem to talk about their problems but after while the problems between his parents seemed to dissolve and they returned to a normal interaction. Greg was unintentionally using the same approach in his conflicts with Sara however, this approach seemed to create more distance and resentment between them.
Based on the couple’s availability, finances, and commitment to doing work outside of sessions, the couple initially came in for 90 minutes sessions once a week for the first 4 weeks and then every other week after that. The counseling sessions first explored the unintentional actions each partner was taking with each other that was not helping or serving their desire to work through conflict together. Between sessions, the couple read and watched videos about how to identify unproductive conflict strategies.
To increase their understanding about their conflict strategies but not to seek justification for their actions, the couple began to explore where they learned their unique conflict styles addressing what seemed helpful about those styles and what was not helpful. During these sessions, the couple continued to learn about the parts of the brain involved with conflict and how to more effectively manage their fight, flight, freeze responses. There was a lot of grief work done during this period for words and actions they did not mean to take with each other in the past. For homework during this period the couple was assigned homework centered around FUN! Because they were doing hard work in session, the counselor encouraged building fun interactions to remind them why they were doing the hard work in session.
Once Greg and Sara had a solid understanding of what they did that was not helpful and why they responded the way they did with each other, the focus shifted to incorporating helpful strategies during their times of conflict. They practiced in session how to self regulate and how to help create a connected and empathetic space which helped them both destress. The counselor took a scaffolding approach to their conflict resolution skills by having them practice conflict with easier topics over a shorter period. Greg, Sara, and the counselor would process what occurred, make tweaks, and then the next session increase the intensity of the topic and the length of discussion. Over the course of six months, each person in the relationship had more understanding of where the other person was coming from and therefore could create more space for empathy and connection in their relationship. The couple reported they shifted from a negative emotional bank account to a positive one and Sara no longer wanted a divorce. Sara reported she felt heard, connected, and considered. Greg also reported increased confidence in himself, the relationship, and his ability to relate to others outside of his relationship with Sara.
If you believe your relationship might benefit from couples counseling, please contact Cambium Counseling.