By Kim Ploussard, LMCH, CRC
Kim Ploussard is a licensed mental health counselor practicing in upstate New York. She is a member of the Relational Life Institute faculty and has over ten years of private practice experience, counseling a diverse population including individuals and couples with alternative lifestyles, trauma survivors and addictions.
Remember the times you’ve asked, “Oh my, who is this person I married?” Perhaps those periods have lasted for several hours, or days or even years. Most committed couples go through this, experiencing times when they feel as if they are living with a stranger -- even the enemy.
It’s during those times that the traits you used to find cute about your partner become irritating. The way he used to sneak up behind you and nuzzle your earlobe starts to feel more like a puppy prodding you for attention. Her forgetfulness, which used to be funny, becomes a way of making you miserable. Often when this happens, couples fail to see what this is really about. Instead they start to think they’ve picked the wrong person.
The reality is that nothing is going wrong. You are going through the normal cycles of a long-term, relationship. Terry Real, names these cycles as harmony, disharmony and repair. “No one really prepares couples for the profound despair of disharmony, when you realize your partner is not going to give you all the things you had expected to get in the initial harmony stage. What many couples are missing is a mechanism for repair. It’s like operating a car without a steering wheel.” says Real.
THE SIX YEAR SCRATCH
Research on married couples reveals that couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy before they get help. Often this is because they are afraid to admit they have a problem or they are too embarrassed to acknowledge it. It’s a taboo subject. You can’t talk to your friends or family about it because they too have a relationship with your spouse. So you try to deal with it on your own. The irony is that most of us assume everyone else is pretty happy in coupledom---but they are privately going through similar cycles.
Taking an honest look at what you are getting and what you are not getting in your relationship is a first step. Sometimes we realize we are actually getting quite a bit, and there may be one or two things that we aren’t getting that results in the fight that keeps repeating itself. One way to break up the dance is to identify what you are doing to start it. This may be hard for you to see, but if you ask your partner, they usually know. Another way to break the silence is going to counseling or attending couples workshops. The focus isn’t on the problem itself but what you can do to turn the normal, predictable issues of a committed relationship into opportunities to grow as individuals and strengthen your marriage.
WHAT FOR THESE SIGNS
Some signs for couples to pay attention to are:
- Spending more time away from each other
- More subjects are ‘off limits’ to discuss
- You fear you are growing apart
- You or your spouse has lost interest in sex or even touching
- You suspect an affair or entertain fantasies of an affair yourself
- You feel trapped, misunderstood or angry much of the time.
Relationships can be fulfilling, passionate, and loving over the long stretch. You don’t have to wait the 6 years to find out if this is possible for you and your partner. Make 2008 the year you took a stand to speak up and make it happen.