“What I like most about change is that it's a symbol of hope. If you are taking a risk, what you are really saying is 'I believe in tomorrow and I will be part of it.'”
~ Linda Ellerbee
When a relationship reaches a point of crisis things can feel utterly hopeless and confusing. Although it can take many years for your relationship to reach this tipping point, when it occurs it can seem sudden, disorienting, and shocking. The partner you thought you knew, the family you thought you had, the relationship you believed to be solid, all can appear to be shifting under your feet. It is often a confusing and utterly terrifying time. Your life as you conceived of it, both past and present, no longer appears to be the life you envisioned. Partners often find themselves trapped in a downward spiral, rehashing the “same” conversations over and over again, desperate to be heard. Other people find themselves in a place of resignation or withdrawal; hopelessness moves in and takes up residence in your heart and in your home.
If this sounds familiar, know you are not alone. Research from The Gottman Institute shows that couples that reach this level of distress can often no longer remember their relationship and its history fondly. A fog of negative sentiment settles in and it becomes impossible to have perspective. We know from research that people often “rewrite” their memories, we add and subtract from them as our lives progress, providing more and more fodder for our hearts and minds to chew on. Sometimes when this happens we get lost in all the stories…What this implies is that it is possible (and very probable) that both you and your partner can no longer see each other clearly, and that there are possibilities and hope that may not be apparent to you. If you find yourself at this juncture in your relationship what do you do?
Do you give up?
Do you fight to the death, and join the *41% of couples that end up in divorce?
Or, do you take a risk and try couples therapy? Couples therapy is a difficult process that requires gaining new insights, trying on new perspectives, and stopping problematic behaviors that may be decades old. How do you do this at a time when you and your relationship may feel so utterly compromised and depleted?
Choosing to come to couples therapy requires courage and, by nature, vulnerability. It is indicative of a desire for change and a willingness to take a risk at a very difficult moment in your relationship’s lifespan. More importantly, it is often effective. Research shows that only 19-37% of couples in the United States seek couples counseling before getting a divorce (Albrecht, Bahr, & Goodman, 1983; Johnson et al., 2002), and yet evidence-based couples therapy has been proven to have a 75-85% success rate with couples who receive treatment.
It is always a risk to embark on change, but relationships impose change by nature. Remember, that this moment in your relationship is just that, a moment. It is not the whole picture no matter how real it may seem. Your life as a couple is as complex as the night sky, consisting of a constellation of moments, memories, and interactions that have brought you here. Finding the right therapist to help guide you in periods of darkness can provide great opportunity for healing, growth and change not otherwise possible. Furthermore, it can help save your family.
*Based on divorce rates for first marriages. Second marriages have a 60% divorce rate, third marriages 73%