By: Cristina Trette
One thing I know for certain about romantic relationships is that they ebb and flow. There will be good times and there will be bad times. As a couples therapist, I see this play out over and over again. Sometimes couples come to session in the midst of an argument. As we dive into their inner experience, they can be caught in a sense of hopelessness and despair. They may share thoughts about leaving the relationship. The next week, that same couple can show up holding hands and update me with a brief recount of great sex and tender moments. They don't want to leave the relationship and all is well again.
It is this exact drama of intimate relationships that fascinates me so much. Romantic love can be a wild force. When connection is running strong, we feel great. When it slows down to a trickle, or stops flowing all together, we feel worse and worse.
On the one hand, small relationship ups and downs are normal and unlikely to make a negative impact. On the other hand, if you have been stuck in a down phase for a long time, or if the dips go very low, this will take a toll on you, your partner, and the relationship.
Ongoing relationship stress can influence all parts of our life. It can seep into careers, mood, energy levels, family life, parenting, and our general sense of wellbeing. If relational stress becomes too high for too long, we may seriously consider separation or divorce.
What follows is the hard truth. Despite being educated, successful, and accomplished by most measures, many couples do not know how to get out of the distressing cycles they get sucked into. One partner's actions can fuel the other partner's trigger, and vice versa. Things can go from good to bad within a split second. When couples are in their cycle, they may think, speak, and act in ways that push the other away. When this happens repeatedly, over a long period of time, it wears everyone down.
Sometimes, we don't know how to stay in a relationship and not stay in so much pain. Leaving begins to sound like a solution and brings some relief. But when looking deeper, we may recognize that we don't really want to leave our partner; we want to leave the pain. When we discover that there is a remedy for the pain, we may also realize that leaving is not the solution after all.
EFT therapists help couples recognize and sooth the main source of their pain, which is the negative cycle, not their partner.
Therefore, if you are in a relationship where you seriously contemplating whether you want to stay or go, before walking out the door for good, ask yourself these questions:
If I could find a remedy to my relationship distress that works, would I want to stay?
If I can learn how to create the kind of relationship I really want with my partner, would I want to stay?
Am I willing to work on my relationship?
If I had to decide today between leaving or staying, would I stay?
If your answers are yes, the next thing to do is take action. Research shows that most couples wait up to six years of struggling before they start counseling. Don't wait that long! If you are hurting so much that you are thinking of leaving, take action now.
I am biased yet nevertheless my suggestion is to see a couples therapist. Couples therapy is very different from individual therapy. You can find an EFT couple therapist in all parts of the world by clicking here. These therapists are specifically trained to help couples at a level far beyond what is required for their master's or doctorate and licensing requirements.
If you decide to start couples therapy, be honest about where you are at when talking to your therapist and your partner. If you are concerned about sharing your thoughts of leaving or divorce with your partner, schedule an individual session with your couples therapist. Your therapist can help you share this with your partner. This is the time to be transparent and put everything on the table. Your therapist will know how to facilitate sessions even if you begin with one foot already out the door.
Before making a final decision, it can be helpful to give yourself a period of time, such as 3 to 6 months, where you commit to relationship growth. During this time go to weekly couples therapy, implement what you learned, read relationship books, go on weekly dates, and attend a couples retreat. Keep in mind that lasting change occurs slowly and tends to be non linear. Three to six months may sound like a long time, yet it probably took years to create the patterns you are in now. It takes time for new neural pathways to form and for couples to implement new ways of interacting. If you end up deciding to leave after this time period, you will have peace of mind knowing that you tried everything you could to improve your relationship before doing so.
Shifting interactional cycles and patterns is powerful and transformation work. Whether you decide to stay, or you decide to go, being able to navigate relationships at this deeper level will benefit you and all of your relationships now and in the future.
Important Note: If abuse is present within the relationship it is very important to get support right away. Abuse does not go away on its own, tends to get worse over time, and will need to be addressed with the help of trained professionals. If you are in an abusive relationship, or worried that you might be, visit www.thehotline.com. Depending on the nature and severity of the abuse, couples therapy may be contraindicated. If you believe that you are in an abusive relationship and are ready to start therapy, almost all eft therapists offer individual sessions.
Hello! I am Cristina Trette. I am a Couples Therapist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Certified in Perinatal Mental Health. I write on all things related to relationships, parenthood, and connection.