Some say the best marriages are the ones where people have been married at least 3 times....to the same spouse. In the 21st Century marriage for a lifetime typically means marriage for a very long time, as lifespans have increased dramatically over the past century. One of the biggest changes for heterosexual couples are the evolving gender roles and the need to negotiate the daily work load on much different terms than couples did even a half generation ago. Expectations are changing fast. Same sex couples are also affected by these developments. Career demands, the philosophy of how much time and attention to give to growing children, consumerism, and intense educational demands, to name a few, have created additional 21 Century pressures for couples. To rise to these new demands and expectations couples need to have a strong and solvent base. I always ask couples who consult with me if they are trying to get back to something solid that they once had or if they are trying to create the kind of relationship they have longed for but need guidance to achieve. Mainly they answer with a combination of both ideas.
In therapy we will look deeply at your personal relational styles and the well honed dance you have developed as a couple. Those dance steps that have functioned as a positive underpinning of your relationship are the source of your strength. But for those steps which never really worked for either of you and often remain unspoken, or which worked for one but not the other, I will introduce healthier options. Generally there will need to be significant changes for the marriage to get on solid footing. I serve as a guide, offering proven and researched tactics that can revive your marriage. With me you will have a cheerleader for sure, if your heart is really devoted to reviving your relationship. Of course as the work progresses, couples are clearly in charge of what they believe they can change and of what they decide to renegotiate. This will determine the level of satisfying outcome. In my experience with couples who are willing to approach their current dynamic non-defensively, I have witnessed amazing positive results. Upon completion of our work some couples report that they have moved into a deeper way of being in love that feels even more satisfying than they even thought possible.
I have worked with a minority of couples who got married with one or both partners knowingly not being in love or with other reservations. For these and a myriad of other reasons, divorce may become inevitable. Fear of the complex ramifications of divorce, including financial issues, extended family concerns and the emotional toll on children, may keep couples together beyond the point of repair of long-standing hurts and resentments. Couples sometimes desperately try to hold things together at any cost. This is understandable, though not sustainable without consequences to all parties involved. When it is clear that the marriage will not survive and you decide to end it, you will be guided to do so with all of your individual worries at the forefront. Sadly, there is no painless divorce.
You are working to maintain your integrity and self respect because you feel trapped in a marriage that you know is not healthy and you don’t know if you should or can, get out of it. If you are in this situation you may try to convince yourself that you and your spouse can just lead separate lives and get by this way. You may find relief through addictions (including over-work), affairs (physical or emotional), focusing exclusively on the children’s needs, or simply staying apart from each other as much as possible (chronic busyness with personal or social activities). At its’ deepest level though, the human spirit is never at peace under disingenuous circumstances.
You are in an essentially loving relationship, but there is inadequate emotional and/or physical intimacy between you. We all hear joking statements about sexless marriage, though there is often much unhappiness for people living in this situation. You may have been very close at one time and now you are growing apart, or perhaps you never learned how to be as close as you desired. There may be brief interludes, a really great weekend, a romantic sexual encounter, sharing satisfying moments with the children, which keep you together, but you long for something more. In therapy, with a sincere willingness by both of you, you can create a more positive emotional connection and learn skills that will reinvigorate your marriage.
An Affair has been discovered. Regardless of the circumstances of the marriage previous to the exposure of the affair, this poses a formidable challenge to remaining in the marriage. There are so many emotions associated with feeling betrayed, or with feeling justified for the infidelity, that it requires expert therapy to assist you with the fallout. Your success in overcoming this situation ironically lies partially in the unique strengths of the relationship you have maintained for this long. If you are both highly motivated and have a solid base, the prognosis for weathering an affair is positive.
Couples sometimes tell me that they want to get back what they had in the beginning, when they first met, usually meaning the feelings associated with falling in love or being in new love. Wanting to have those feelings has merit, though we know that “falling in love” or being in a state of limerence is always a temporary state. Your chemistry returns to its’ normal temperature after a year or two. Truth is, you can fall in love with someone you don’t actually like all that much. Indeed you are lucky, and a step ahead of the game, if you really like the person that you are married to, as it motivates you to work to create a satisfying marriage past the limerence stage.