It always amazes me that people wait so long before getting help to sort out relationship problems. A study undertaken by Relate indicates that it takes 6 years on average. Very often couples come into therapy because one has had an affair. To many this is the end with only one option – separation.
Take June and Pete. They came to my therapy space highly distressed and at crisis point. “I cannot imagine how you or anyone can help us.” said June. Pete had been a serial adulterer all the time they had been together. When found out, he promised he would never do it again. Eventually, June gave in and trusted him hoping that he would change. He didn’t!
I started by asking “why come to therapy now?” This question often uncovers the real reasons that a couple come into therapy. June said that she was not prepared to throw away 22 years of marriage without a fight and as she approached late middle age didn’t want to be alone. Pete watched sheepishly, acutely embarrassed. He loved June, but couldn’t help thinking there was more excitement to be had and he didn’t want to feel middle aged either. He had a successful career and was at the top of his game often needing to spend time away from home. And it was on those trips that he succumbed to the temptations that surrounded him. Mostly his partners were married and in much the same situation.
I explained that an affair could be considered the ultimate sabotage of a relationship but within that there is an opportunity for growth as David Schnarch (Resurrecting Sex) asserts. The challenge was to ask them how dare they let this happen to them? This infers that both parties have had a hand in creating a void or vacuum so that they both feel lonely and need solace outside the marriage; in Pete’s case illicit affairs. June on the other hand had put all her energies into the children. She was justifiably proud of her 3 boys who were the apple of her eye. Later in discussion Pete complained that when he got home from his business trips, he felt like an intruder and had difficulties picking up where he left off.
June ran their home like the captain of a ship and didn’t really call upon Pete to contribute to the running of it, to its decoration or furnishing, since she felt he was always “too busy”. Pete as a result felt he was merely the money provider and that his marriage mirrored that of his parents, where his father had been the main provider. Re-enacting the unwritten rules followed by earlier generations of what a good marriage should be; a good wife is…. a good husband is…. cannot always be a successful template in today’s world.
They both certainly had expectations of the marriage but had never discussed them in depth. For example, whereas June wanted a houseful of kids, Pete was scared that he might not be a good dad. That their sexual relationship would be monogamous (seems obvious doesn’t it?), and that Pete would work and June would stay at home.
During the course of therapy both June and Pete were witness to each other’s unheard stories. On many occasions they would say, “how come you never told me this?” As their shared experiences were unravelled they became more aware of the qualities, strengths and weaknesses of each other. Over time they learnt to effectively communicate with each other without hurt or blame. They developed a clear sense of who they were and became grounded in that process. Importantly they were taught how to have a good row, respecting each other’s autonomy and honouring themselves and others.
Luckily, they moved on from their ordeal to the real deal and developed a strong and healthy relationship with each other in which they could tolerate more easily the darker or perhaps the more irritating side of each other with humour and compassion.
The Mary Clegg Clinic has a proven track record of the delivery of premium quality relationship counselling. If you or someone you know is having difficulties our motto is “seek help soon” and don’t wait till it’s too late. Email firstname.lastname@example.org today and get the support you deserve.