When couples come to therapy it’s usually to try to save their relationship. There has been damage on both sides, and repair is in order, so that’s where we start. Each of the two has a point of view that needs to be heard and understood by the other with real empathy, which can often be difficult to find when hurt and anger are front and center.
So we dig in and dive deep into what has happened, where it all started, how things got so bad, and what can be done about it. Trust needs to be re-established, and that involves not only empathy and understanding, but also forgiveness. Forgiveness is a tricky word though – it doesn’t mean accepting everything that has occurred as if it was OK, but it does mean getting to a point where motives are understood, and apologies are given and accepted.
What many people don’t know is that the way we feel most hurt by our partners is often the way we have been hurt in the past – in prior relationships, and in our childhoods. Individual therapy is very helpful to uncover that history.
Through therapy some couples find an opportunity to renew love and re-commit to a better future. That future will include better communication, without insults or damaging fights, and a focus on nurturing love and trust to keep it alive.
But sometimes that second chance just isn’t possible, either for one of the partners – or for both. For example, there may have been a trust violation or a long series of hurts that one of the partners cannot recover from, or isn’t willing to try to recover from. For the second chance to be possible there has to be a second try, but the outcome is never guaranteed, and trying means being vulnerable to disappointment. It takes courage, and having enough left to fight for, to take that risk.
There are also situations in which the couple were not right for each other from the beginning and hoped “things would get better” – but things never got better. People are not all the same, and have profound differences of personality styles, values, needs, preferences, goals, etc. And over the course of many years people can change dramatically – but not always in the same direction.
When you decide to go to couples therapy, give it time – a few months – and hold on to hope. If you feel the wish to heal the wounds and stay together, say it out loud so your partner can be reassured. If you really don’t know which direction you want to go, be honest, but try to keep your heart and mind open, especially if you have children.
If you get to a place where you are certain that you need to leave the relationship, and you know you have tried your best to save it, you should give yourselves permission to accept that fact, as difficult as it may be. Using the communication tools you learn in therapy you can have a separation or a divorce which is done with respect and kindness. This is especially essential if you have children who will need your help throughout the process.