Archive for healing

Working with Older Couples

Recently, I have found myself working with couples who have been together for a long time. Sometimes for decades.  They often come to see me not because there is something horribly wrong with their relationship but because they are struggling to find meaning and a deeper connection they long for.  It’s as if having got through their professional lives, raising a family together and managing the difficulties life presents, they are left with a profound disappointment that begs the question “What has this all meant?”

Helping couples to find their way back to one another can be challenging, but I have found that couples who are invested enough to want to come into couples therapy to explore their relationship are far less likely to walk away and better able to work together and find one another again.

When couples begin to sense their disconnected from each other, some common issues tend to come up, such as not feeling supported, leading separate lives and not making an effort to do the things the other likes. Feeling unloved, uncared for, and unappreciated often are what hurt and make couples think that their entire relationship has been meaningless.  Acknowledging this hurt and disappointment doesn’t need to translate into blame but can become an opportunity for understanding and healing.

By going back and better understanding the “unconscious agreements” couples make when they first meet (these are the expectations that are bought into present relationship that are informed by unconsciously witnessing their parent’s) couples are better able to consciously see the part they bring into the relationship. This awareness can help reframe their narrative so they can begin to clearly state what their needs are now.

At the heart of a long-term relationship is the ability to see the value of staying together through thick and thin (despite it not being perfect) and appreciating that “we all learn as we go” and usually have done the best we could at that time.
Accepting each other’s flaws starts with us accepting our own. Learning to forgive ourselves teaches us the compassion to forgive our partner for sometimes letting us down (and knowing we are capable of letting them down). Our own consciousness gives us the tools to be more compassionate, kind and appreciative of our partner and brings us closer to having a loving and authentic relationship which is essential for a long term relationship.

Some things we can do to sustain long term relationships:
Make contact with each other. Say good morning, good night etc.
Take time to ask the other how they are, how they feel.
Leave each other sweet messages.
Do unexpected things, book a favourite restaurant, arrange a special night out.
Run a bath for your partner
Make physical contact daily. Kiss, touch one another often.
Be sweet and playful with each other.

Shirlee Kay

Can a Couple Survive an Affair

Many couples believe that an affair means that their relationship is over and beyond repair. They are certain that they will never be able to trust their partner again and they believe that the relationship can’t possibly be viable after their partner cheats. They feel that they know longer know their partner.

There is blame, anger, sadness and a profound sense of betrayal. These are perfectly understandable feelings but what I’ve learned working with couples is that when the story unfolds and both people are able to understand and make sense of the ‘how this might of happened’, healing can, and does, take place. It takes time and patience but couples do have the capacity to forgive and love each other again. There is also a huge opportunity to learn about oneself and their partner through this painful process.
Stages of Healing after an affair:

When discovering one’s partner has gone outside the relationship there is naturally shock and outrage. This is the time when the couples have strong negative feelings towards each other. The reactions that come out may be reactive and forceful or it can manifest itself as one partner withdrawing. Hard though it is to do, this is the time to slow things down and allow the feelings to settle.
Getting to the point where a couple is able to come together and talk effectively varies, and needs to be respected. Once feelings settle, it’s time to talk. Being clear and connected to one’s feelings allows us the clarity to articulate thoughts and emotions, enabling our partner to hear us rather than react and defend themselves. In other words, being clear with our feelings shifts the conversation from blaming to starting to make sense of what has transpired. It’s relational rather than attacking and creates a dialog to start to build trust and understanding again.
It’s important and natural to want to know the facts of the affair because it allows a couple to understand why it happened in the first place. The problem arises when a couple gets stuck in the details because then the underlying feelings and reasons get lost.

Getting to the root cause of ‘why’ isn’t always possible because the person responsible often doesn’t understand why they did it in the first place. There is a feeling that it ‘just happened’ which suggests that they are not taking responsibility for going outside the relationship. This can be frustrating for the other partner because their world has suddenly become unstable and not pinpointing a reason only intensifies this feeling.
I have sat with couples entrenched in this dynamic and I sense the person responsible for the affair really doesn’t have a clue as to why. Staying with the couple’s ‘not knowing’ and gently allowing the process to progress is what allows the understanding to emerge.
The most difficult thing for couples to appreciate in this situation is that both parties are suffering and really do want to understand and most importantly, to get back to the way things once were. Although not always possible, when a couple is able to stay with the difficulty and work forward, the process of letting go and forgiving can and does take place.
Shirlee Kay