‘Love arrives, and in its train comes ecstasies, Old memory of pleasure, Ancient history of pain Yet, if we are bold, Love strikes away the chains of fear form our souls’
The challenge of relationship
In all their different forms, our relationships with others are crucial to our wellbeing as they provide us with a sense of belonging, boost our self-esteem and enable us to feel more fully alive.
In our intimate adult relationships we seek and often gain a profound sense of connection, but it is also here that we can feel the most challenged. The couple relationship will demand that we compromise, adapt, change and forgive; over time we may feel criticised, misunderstood and rejected. It can become increasingly difficult to disentangle ourselves from a growing web of confusion and resentment.
In past generations there were clearer rules and roles to guide couples and to limit expectations; ‘putting up with it’ and ‘getting on with it’ were ways of coping with disappointment and unhappiness. Today, for many couples, these are no longer options. We expect much more from the relationship we create with our partners and an ongoing sense of failure and loss can make it difficult to see how the relationship can survive.
All sorts of things create stress for long-term relationships; coping with young children or teenagers, life changes and transitions, sexual difficulties, health and money worries to name but a few. Frequently, time itself seems to take its toll and the needs of the couple relationship become neglected. Disappointment and loneliness may be expressed through frequent bickering or arguments and communication may break down; work demands or an affair might provide a means of coping with or escaping unhappiness.
Therapy for your relationship – finding a way forward
I believe a door is opened when couples are able to acknowledge and face their difficulties together. Unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaving can be identified and worked with and partners have the opportunity to develop greater awareness of their own and each others’ thoughts and feelings. Making sense of strong emotions, becoming curious and exploring opportunities for creating greater connection, compassion and intimacy are all part of the process.
Not all difficulties can be overcome and not all relationships will grow and flourish but relationship therapy can provide a safe space when past hurts and disappointments can be processed and partners can be helped to communicate openly, with less blame or defensiveness. It then becomes possible to move on from restrictive patterns of behaviour and to learn how to relate to and love each other in a way which sustains and allows the relationship to grow.
‘All my life I thought that the story was over when the hero and heroine were safely engaged. After all, what’s good enough for Jane Austen ought to be good enough for anyone. But it’s a lie. The story is about to begin, and every day will be a new piece of the plot’.
Mary Ann Schaffer