Linda: Sometimes I have clients come to me who aren’t sure if they want to bother to put in the time, money, and effort that is required once you commit to couples’ counseling. After years of fighting, not getting their needs met, avoiding issues, or recovering from ugly scenes they become apathetic about doing the work that is required for turning a relationship around to become a healthy, wholesome one.
I tell them all the same message. “If you give yourself to this process, it could make all the difference. If you leave now when you are so uncertain and ambivalent, you are likely to be haunted by the “if-onlies.” The “if-onlies” are “If only I had done some individual counseling and taken a look at myself to see how I was contributing to the relationship going down. If only we had gone to couples’ counseling so that I could have had help hearing what my partner was trying to tell me and instituting the realizations that I would have from the counseling. If only I had read the books about communication, taken the workshops, and done my part to heal our damaged relationship, there could have been a different outcome.”
So many people leave their marriages without doing any counseling at all. If fact, research shows that the number of people seeking divorce who have never had any counseling is the majority. These people who have left their marriages may not suffer with the “if-onlies” because they don’t want to look. They don’t want to face the possibility that they could have made the required changes to co-create a fine partnership.
I have heard from a number of people over the years “If I knew then what I know now, I’m sure that our marriage could have made it.” Even for those of us who believe that we are always doing the best at any given time with what we know, it is still a hard to face that we made a mistake. It is hard to face that we were ignorant and arrogant at the time, when being humble and asking for help would have made the difference.
I tell all the doubting couples the same thing. “Don’t you think that you owe it to yourself to find out if you two could create a terrific partnership. If you make your strongest effort, there is no guarantee that the marriage will come through the transition intact and healthy. But even if you decide to separate and divorce, you can leave with your head up high, knowing that you did your very best to turn the relationship into one that meets both sets of needs.”
Even if you give the relationship more months and ultimately decide to leave, nothing has been wasted. At the very least you have been practicing good relationship skills, which will hold you in good stead when you are in a future romantic relationship. If you are raising children, you are able to rely on your advanced communication and negotiation skills to co-parent them with more trust and co-operation. Relationship skills are portable; once you have them you can use them with family, friends, and on the job.
If you do your due diligence, not only during the couple counseling sessions, but between them, you could change limiting habits that may have been in the family lineage for generations, and finally learn what great relationships are made of. From my point of view, you don’t have anything to lose and so much to gain.
Separation and divorce can look tempting when we are in painful periods of our partnership. The flaws of the other person are so obvious. Our inadequacies are not nearly as easy to spot. It is likely that our partner is doing the very same thing that we are, blaming us. It is tempting for our mind to seize on the other’s deficiencies and to build a strong case about how impossible they are to live with. But as many have discovered when they get out of a difficult partnership, they take themselves with them. Only then do they see clearly, that they had something to do with the relationship being in dire straits.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get wiser before the separation and take a good look at ourselves and see what changes need to be made? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could step out of the victim position and rise up to a higher level of responsibility? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were humble enough to ask for help from those in a position to give us some practical advice? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were creative enough to try something very different from what we have been doing for years, to possibly have the breakdown become a breakthrough rather than a breakup?
What if the low is just a turning point in our life and that embedded in the ordeal are our biggest life lessons? What if we are resisting getting these important lessons because they scare us? What if we are just being stubborn and righteous that the way we see it is the way it is?
Of course, not every relationship needs to be saved nor should be saved. There are truly mismatched pairs that are much better off after a separation. But many couples that still love each other, with perfectly wonderful potential, who are letting their relationships go when they become difficult and give up to easily. So once again, I invite you to consider this important truth: “If you don’t try, you’ll never know.”