Tilley Psychological Services

Marital / Relationship Therapy

Marriage or marital-type relationships are highly valued in our culture, yet North-American society does little to support or nurture the marital relationship.  We are fed a Hollywood vision of love and marriage - we meet, fall in love, and after some struggle, get together and live happily ever after.  Couples who have an initial attraction and subsequently develop a relationship often find that once the newness wears off their relationship, life intrudes and the relationship becomes monotonous or even uncomfortable. Careers, children, and other life commitments take away from each partner’s ability to continue nurturing the relationship. At this point, some couples split up and search for newer, more exciting relationships (leading to a pattern of short-term, intense emotional attractions), while others accept the relationship as it is but are unhappy and long for a deeper level of connection with their partner. On a long term basis, neither solution is ideal.

 

Most of us enter relationships carrying unresolved emotions from previous relationships (including family-of-origin relationship) that interfere with our ability to trust, share our feelings, or deal with conflict.  Many people in our culture are lonely and struggle with fears of being alone or abandoned.  In this situation, the early part of the relationship, with its great excitement, is relatively easy and powerfully reinforcing.  However, when the expectation for deepening attachment and intimacy begins, for many the fear of being abandoned is too strong, which causes great anxiety.  The stronger the emotional attachment, the greater the anxiety that will be experienced.  This often results in tension, unresolved conflict, blaming, hoarding of hurts, and justification of disrespectful behaviours.  People argue over trivial things, because the fear of being rejected and left alone prevents them from tackling the more important emotional issues.  In their fear and ambivalence a hurt, fearful or angry partner unbalances the relationship and risks bringing about what they fear most: abandonment. 

 

A common complaint that I get from couples first entering therapy is that they do not know how to communicate.  This is a real problem, since many of us do spend time preparing our responses rather than truly listening when someone else is talking.   This is particularly true in relationships in which blaming and self-defense have become the order of the day.  If one or both of the partners have difficulty with intimacy or fear abandonment, communication problems will be magnified, and these fears need to be addressed. Therefore, while addressing patterns of communication is helpful, I believe it is more important to rebuild trust and help couples move back to working together, in a respectful and trusting manner, to deal with the challenges of life.

 

Fortunately, these difficulties are not insurmountable.  Even in situations in which one partner has sought emotional or sexual satisfaction outside the relationship, it is possible to process what happened, regain trust, and move towards a more open relationship in which both partners are able to get their needs met.  As with individual therapy, many couples come for therapy only after going through prolonged periods of frustration, turmoil, or isolation.  In many couples one person wants to attend for therapy but the other is afraid and refuses to come until their partner threatens to leave.  It would be far better to attend for counselling before that time, as by then, one partner has often already made the decision to leave. The focus of therapy then is not rebuilding the relationship, but rather supporting both partners to break up in a manner that provides as much understanding and closure that is possible. 

 

 

Contact me at 780-702-8905 or email linda@tilleypsych.com