Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
Every Couple Goes Through Hard Times.
Has your relationship been feeling hard lately? Arguing, bickering, sullen silences, critical comments, and rampant invalidation? If so, you're not alone. Virtually every couple has gone through rough patches like these where things feel challenging: Frustrating, hurtful, angering, and stressful.
When your relationship is in a fragile place, even the most innocent comments or situations can trigger a conflict and it feels like a new fight is always simmering just under the surface. Even when you try to have fun together, it quickly goes off the rails. You might even start avoiding each other in order to prevent a new disagreement.
Relationship problems like these are exhausting, but mentally and emotionally draining too. Your relationship should be a source of comfort and support, not one of stress and anxiety. If you're normal, at a certain point, it starts to feel unsustainable to keep going as you have been, and start searching for solutions. You may even start entertaining the “final solution” of breaking up or getting divorced.
Can This Relationship Be Saved?
If your relationship has been having problems for a while, you may be feeling helpless about how to save your relationship, and worried that things might not work out between the two of you. It is normal to wonder if this relationship can be saved. Of course, this is a scary place to be in, particularly if you really want a relationship to work. But it's true: When you've been trying over and over again to communicate and solve the problems in your relationship and it's not working… everyone starts to wonder if this is the end of the road for their relationship.
When relationship problems persist and nothing seems to help, it's normal to start to doubt your compatibility, or think that you and your partner are just too different in your values or personalities. You may be wondering if your partner CAN learn how to communicate, or whether they are even willing to work with you to make the marriage or relationship better. You might think about trying marriage counseling or couples therapy, but then think, “How would a marriage counselor saying what I've been saying have any impact at all? What's the point of marriage counseling when they refuse to change?”
While this mindset is absolutely normal and natural, if it's indulged for too long it's likely to end in divorce or a break up. Why? Because you're convincing yourself that nothing can be done, and in doing so, may be closing yourself off to solutions. I'm here to tell you that you may have more options than you currently realize.
Thinking About Leaving Your Relationship? Not So Fast…
If you've been feeling badly in your relationship for a while, you might even be harboring escape fantasies: Browsing online for apartments, thinking about what you'd say to the kids, and what your life might look like if you're finally free of the relationship that's been feeling so frustrating and hurtful. It can start to seem like divorce or leaving is the only option.
But that is rarely the case. Just because what you have been doing hasn't worked, it doesn't mean that there isn't a path forward that will work. (It just might look different than you were anticipating).
As a marriage counselor, I know first hand that some relationships cannot be saved. However, many more can. And, sadly, most of the time people get divorced because they don't know how to resolve the problems in their relationship, and lose hope that things can ever get better. However, it is very rare that evidence-based couples counseling doesn't work when two people care enough about their relationship to try (and are given the right tools and supports to be successful).
Consider this: Even if you do divorce, and form a new relationship with a new person, chances are that sooner or later you'll arrive in a similar place — feeling frustrated by your relationship, and at a cross roads where you either grow together or grow apart. (Read: Why Your Relationship is Worth Saving)
It's easy to start creating a narrative about how “things shouldn't be this hard” or “this is not normal.” The truth is that unless this is a genuinely toxic or abusive relationship, all normal couples go through times just like this. You're normal. I dare you to find one person who's been married or partnered for more than about 4 years who has not, at some point, felt exactly the way you do.
There is hope for your relationship: Couples, with the right support, can grow together and not just resolve their problems but come out the other side being stronger, happier and genuinely more satisfied with their relationships — not in spite of going through the hard times, but because of them.
Learning How to Grow, Together
When couples inevitably get to the point where communication has broken down, and resentments build up… they have the opportunity to do some serious growth work together. Through this process, you have the chance to be understood, cared for, heard, and respected by each other. You also get the chance to solve problems together as a couple, and work together to build the type of life and relationship that you want.
Without going through the hard times, you wouldn't have the opportunity or motivation to get really real and embrace the challenge of growth that your marriage requires.
How to Save Your Relationship, When It Feels Like It's On The Brink
There is a path forward, that can bring you two back together again. It's actually fairly simple (but not easy).
Listen to this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast for advice from a marriage counselor for how you can get your relationship back on track.
Happy Valentine's Day!