Therapy is regarded by some as a sign of weakness or failure, but anyone who has ever had therapy knows how wrong that is! Coming to therapy is a big step that is a sign of strength because it requires courage and a lot of commitment.
Couples therapy is no different. Sometimes we need help to navigate the challenges of our intimate relationships, and it is important to recognise that whilst a good couples therapist may influence you, the only person with the power to change things is you, and you do have that power, no matter how bad things have gotten.
When if comes to our most important relationships, whilst we might be living in an era of changing social attitudes, with more people cohabiting prior to getting married, nevertheless this year divorce rates have increased for the first time in a decade. Divorce is not easy – it is a process often loaded with conflict, fear and anxiety.
However it does not have to be the only option. Intimate relationships, whether of same or opposite sex, cohabiting or married, monogamous or polyamorous, are complex systems and a good couples therapist can not only help you navigate the conflict and difficulties that may arise, but can help you take your relationship to the next level.
People Growing Machines
Our closest relationships are actually people growing machines. In that, unconsciously, we ‘choose’ our partner to heal our historical ‘wounds’ and help us become the person we can be, complete.
What attracted us to our partner is often outside of our conscious awareness and beyond the obvious physical characteristics; but that very attraction often becomes that which ends up bugging us about them.
The shy man who marries the extraverted woman, and who then gets tired of the continuous social diary; the needy woman who lives with her strong partner and then is triggered into jealousy or insecurity with his independent nature. The creative female who marries the logical and rational man, but then they both start to get on each other’s nerves.
The Three Phases of Intimate Relationships
Did you know that intimate relationships go through three recognised phases: romantic love, the power struggle and finally (for the lucky few) the real deal of a truly conscious relationship. Once we get through the first six months to two years or so of the romantic love phase, where we are infatuated, or ‘in love’, with the other, we hit the ordeal phase of the power struggle. This is a phase where the other becomes the ‘enemy’, we see their faults and there is increasing conflict or distance and withdrawal.
For our relationship to grow into the final stage of a conscious relationship – a phase where we are equals, and experience a deeper and lasting trust, and a more enduring love where we feel comfortable and secure – we need to embrace and navigate the necessary conflict of the power struggle phase. Most couples need some help with this.
Couples therapy has an important place in many couples’ lives, not because people must stay together but because romantic love does not last (we have been brainwashed by Hollywood!) and if they don’t use this relationship, and its conflicts and difficulties, to work through the issues they will just find themselves repeating the same pattern in their next one. Working through this phase in a relationship is certainly not the easy option, as such work requires each party to be an active partner in the process of change.
“We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we must heal in relationship.” Harville Hendrix
To be able to grow and move to the ideal phase requires us to access thoughts, feelings and emotions that we may prefer to keep buried – such as guilt, shame, anger or sadness. It is difficult and challenging work, as all personal change is. But if, perhaps with some help, we can be brave and (sometimes) brutally honest with ourselves and the other we can own our unhelpful patterns, heal the past and move to real love.
If we can do this, and we may need to renegotiate the ‘power struggle’ phase several times over the course of a long term relationship, we have the joy of experiencing several amazing relationships in one long term relationship. Through the growth we can achieve with a bit of hard work, through that power struggle phase, our relationship can grow to new heights that we barely recognise from what it was before, as both people change.
I am not saying this work is easy or a given, by any means. It requires deep commitment and courage; and sometimes the only option is to split (and the therapist can help you do that with dignity and less fear). But doing this hard work is worth it.
Embodied Counselling offers couples psychotherapy to help all couples navigate their relationship difficulties and move to more contentment and satisfaction in their relationship.