A relationship is a closed circle. It’s like an electricity circuit, where energy runs to and from you in a closed loop. As long as we’re in it.
Reading through one couple’s intake forms, I found myself wondering why they wanted to book in to see me. She had rated the relationship 8 out of 10 and stated that she had been sad for two weeks. However, when I reached the part in the intake form, where she spoke about what she would like to accomplish in our sessions, I realized that she had diagnosed a cancer in her relationship at such an early stage, that it is still relatively easy to cure. If she were to wait for it to grow and progress to a more advanced stage, she would need much more intense interventions. She was being the canary in the mine shaft. Trying to inform the system that something is wrong. The problem she was facing could have easily been dismissed at this early stage. Many would make excuses – the problem only exists in your mind, it’s not that bad, it’s normal, it’s your issue.
Usually the partner who feels the relational pain first is the one that calls for help.
Unless they have reached the ultimatum, “I’m leaving you,” which usually comes after they are so hurt and burnt out, it is too easy to ignore some of the early, less pronounced issues.
What I need to do as a relationship counsellor, is to help the partner that is not yet experiencing the ‘relational pain’ and could easily dismiss their partner’s concerns, is to be able to pre-empt and look ahead at how this seemingly small thing could escalate. Currently, the way things are, is actually serving them and working for them. They may need support to understand that just because they are not feeling it, it doesn’t mean it’s not true and happening for their significant other. If they keep on as they are and don’t stop and change course, they are bound to get to the end after a neglectful and even harmful chain of events that they can no longer plead ignorance.
The tricky part is, we usually don’t have the motivation to change if it doesn’t hurt enough. He would need to trust her warnings as true and real. He would need to choose above his own instinctual drive, to put her vision first. He would need to overcome his fear of being controlled and manipulated and prioritize the higher values of collaboration, equality and friendship. He would need to willingly relinquish his blind spots and his privilege after acknowledging these and making them visible. He would need to step back, go slow, make space, for her to catch up.
She would need to take full responsibility to do her own work, to keep all positive aspects of herself nurtured and alive. She would also need to skillfully deal with her negative emotions of jealousy, competition, frustration. She would need to know that her choices at that moment, in this case to put most her energy in the family and children is not forever, even though it may feel like it at that time.
As a couple, they will need to go through all this, while staying connected and continually coming back to each other to resolve and heal, to give and receive and to see each other in the highest light. It’s no wonder the closed loop of relationship becomes either a sacred force for eternity or is easily ruptured by a failure to appreciate, acknowledge and heal the small challenges before they become big ones.