One of the first questions couples will ask me when they start marriage counselling is, “How effective is marriage counselling and do you think our relationship can be fixed”? While I can’t give couples a definite yes or no answer as to whether their relationship will be what they want, marriage counselling can be and is very effective, provided there are some essentials in place.
To have a good chance at creating a happy relationship, a couple still need to have some level of regard for each other. Whether there is still some love there, some respect or at least a lot of like towards that person, it won’t work if couples are trying simply because they ‘should’ or for the sake of the children.
Couples also need to be willing to work at the relationship and take responsibility for their role in the existing relationship. If you are not willing to accept that you may need to make changes as an individual, then there is not much chance of creating a healthy relationship with your partner. Marriage counselling is not about ‘fixing’ one person, it is about identifying what is not working for the relationship and both people taking part in making changes to achieve their goals for the relationship.
Finally, the relationship needs to be given priority status. This is undoubtedly one of the things many couples struggle with both prior to counselling and during the process. Much of the couple’s work I do is based on home tasks to get the change couples want. It is through the tasks at home that couples get the most change and often faster results.
Unfortunately, many couples will arrive at the next session with the opening line that they have not had time to complete the task set for the relationship as work/children/life was too busy. What I hear from that statement is that the relationship is not a priority and if it can’t be given the time during this process then it is unlikely to ever be given the time. A pretty sad statement for the future of the relationship.
Relationship Priority is Incredibly Important
It is incredibly important that you make the relationship a priority in order to maintain a healthy relationship. Most couples will put endless amounts of time and energy into the relationship in the early stages, usually the first couple of years. The relationship is exciting and fulfilling and there is a lot of thought put into how to keep it healthy. Little wonder people thrive in this ‘honeymoon period’ of a relationship.
Once couples are in their comfort zone, they start to take their eye off the relationship and expect it will continue to move along as it has in the past but without the effort. For many people, they believe that if the relationship is a good one, then is should not require effort. This is not true. Every relationship requires effort and the happiest relationships are the ones that have been given plenty of attention.
Think back to the start of your relationship. What was it like? How much effort did you put in to make your partner happy? How much time did you put in to being there in the relationship? How often did you put other things such as friends or work as a lower priority in order to put the relationship first?
For most couples, the relationship was given top priority at the beginning and fast track to the present and it is often given the lowest priority. I understand that life changes and with children, careers and mortgages, priorities have to change and time is limited. But, couples will always say that they have to find the time for work and always find the time for the kid’s activities. Why? Because it wouldn’t occur to them to not make it happen, it is given priority. Why then is the relationship, which defines so much of people’s lives, relegated to such a low priority?
For most couples, they are aware that the relationship may be having some problems, that it is not as satisfying as it once was, but there is often the unspoken belief that once time is more available (possibly many years down the track) then they will put effort back into the relationship. Until then, it can limp along without any attention given to it.
It is during this period that relationships often fail. One person may not be satisfied with the relationship just existing, or quite often, a third party becomes involved in the relationship and an affair begins.
How to Make Your Relationship a Priority
Starting today (yep not tomorrow cause work is busy!), think of how you can make your relationship a priority. Look for small ways to let your partner know you are thinking of them. A text in the day telling them you love them, stop and buy a small gift or their favourite snack on the way home, cook a favourite meal or surprise them with takeout so they don’t have to cook.
In the evening, find some time to sit with each other. Just half an hour most evenings can be enough to maintain a healthy relationship through busy times. Put the technology aside, sit next to each other on the lounge (yep you have to actually sit near each other sometimes!!), just chat about nothing in particular, it is about finding time to connect as a couple.
Think back to the start of your relationship. What did you do that you both liked, that made the relationship so nice? Try and find ways to bring some of those things back into the relationship. Work together to be solution focused to find ways. If you used to travel all the time together but now have young kids and can’t do that, then perhaps a night away once every couple of months can be enough for now to sustain your relationship. There are solutions, look for them.
What have you done this week to make your relationship a priority? If you want to hold onto that wonderful relationship you took the time to create, then take the time now to nurture it and allow it to continue to thrive with the attention.