The question I am asked most frequently by couples is “Can our relationship be saved?” Even after nearly 20 years of work, I am always surprised that couples will think that I will know more than they do about their relationship during a first appointment. Maybe you worry that the connection between you is so broken that there is no going back. Maybe you worry that it is clear to everyone but you that the relationship is beyond repair. The most important thing in resuscitating a flagging relationship is that both people actually want it to work. Whether you’ve been together less than a year or 45 years, no one knows your relationship like you do. It’s only you who are in it. From the outside, I can tell you what I see, but I can never tell you how you actually live the relationship.
When working with relationships, I put a lot of emphasis on communication. To the untrained ear, people can sound like they are speaking the same language, but I have found that what is spoken and what is heard is often sufficiently different to lead to unproductive conversations. It’s kind of like if you hear someone speaking Mandarin and someone else speaking Standard Chinese: they sound similar, but are actually different. In working with me, my clients learn how to listen more closely to what they are hearing so that when they respond, they are actually responding to what is being said and felt, rather than responding to what they might be afraid is being said and felt. There’s nuance there, and it makes a big difference. Think about how many times you have had a ridiculous argument that was as a result of a misunderstanding. You often end up talking about things that were said out of context, but because they were said, you have to deal with those things instead of the actual underlying issue that is between the two of you.
My approach to relationships is different than most of my colleagues’. When I learned about family and couples’ therapy at the Family Institute in Chicago, the emphasis was on always seeing the couple together, rather than separately. This surprises a lot of people, as many psychologists will be sure to have an individual session with each member of the relationship so that each member can talk more freely. I find that it is better for relationships that we all share the same basic information. If you can’t say it out loud to your partner, maybe it’s not time for that to come out, yet. If you can only tell it to me and it comes out later, your partner may have similar feelings to if they learned you were having an affair. It turns the therapy into a strange triangle where one party can end up feeling foolish that a virtual stranger knows more about their partner than they do. And in the end, it is rarely the information per se that is important, but rather the dynamic between you that needs working on so that you can both really see what is blocking you from having the love you want and need from each other.
I don’t think every relationship can be saved. Sometimes people come to see me to make sure that they have done everything they can to save the relationship before they decide to leave. I have found, however, that if someone is coming mostly to be able to justify their decision to leave, then they made the decision before we started our work together. How you uncouple is every bit as important as how you coupled up in the first place, and I have helped couples find ways to end things so that no one is looking back with the pain and misery of great regret.
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2018 MATTHEW RIPPEYOUNG
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Find more satisfaction in life
Find more satisfaction in life
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