I had a couple come in for counseling once telling me that their marriage was “hanging on by a thread.” Despite being married for years, having good careers, an active church life and a good community of friends, their relationship with each other had been worn down by years of conflict and an inability to effectively process perpetual problems.
Intimacy between two partners is somewhat like a rope. At the beginning of the relationship, the rope is strong. It’s never been tested. It’s good to look at and you know there are great things in store. Over time though, our relationships experience some harsh environments, they might be pulled in ways that create strain. Eventually, the fibers that had once made the relationship strong, begin to fray. As the relationship continues to be worn down, couples might find themselves in a situation similar to my couple that came in. They’re hanging on by a thread.
Unlike a rope, the relationship between two people can be repaired. Whereas at the beginning of the rope’s life, it is the strongest, relationships can actually grow stronger through healthy conflict during times of strain and testing. What I often communicate to couples is that when their relationship is hanging on by a thread, it’s no wonder that every issue feels like it’s going cause the partnership to snap. Unless there are some significant repairs, it cannot withstand the weight of addressing serious relationship problems.
Here are three ways that couples counseling can help to repair a relationship that’s hanging on by a thread.
Identify Destructive Patterns
At times you both might want for things to get better but perhaps you don’t understand how you keep getting caught behaving in ways that are harmful to your relationship. This would be like both of you acknowledging that there’s a problem with the rope but continuing to use it in ways that create the damage. A trained counselor can help you to recognize ways that you are continuing to hurt your relationship even though you may desperately want for it to be healthy.
Learn to Make Repairs
Imagine trying to repair the rope that connects you to your partner only to find that your partner resists your attempts, only causing the rope to become more frayed. Many couples find themselves having difficulty learning how to accept one another’s attempts to repair damage from the past. This can be attempt to repair hurt from long ago or even a recent conversation. Counseling can help provide a guide toward genuinely hearing when your partner is wanting to make things right.
Focus on the Solvable
When you have unhealthy conflict with your partner, you tend to focus on trying to solve perpetual problems. It’s possible that you and your partner have become gridlocked on some particular issue and find yourselves constantly returning to it with no resolution. It’s as if you know that using the rope in this way creates a damaged rope, but you don’t know another way to get the job done. You’re in good company though. Every relationship has perpetual problems and they make up close to 70% of all issues couples try to address. Counseling can help you shift from perpetual problems to ones that are actually solvable.
Perhaps you’ve realized that “hanging on by a thread” is no longer working for you and your partner and you’re ready to identify what is going wrong, repair the damage and focus on what can actually be resolved between you. I work with couples every week in situations just like yours who not only stop the damage to their intimacy but also grow through learning to engage in healthy conflict.
Send me a message about where you’re at and let’s talk about how I might be able to help!