OPINION: Let's stay together - my simple steps to saving a relationship
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Have you noticed there seem to be a lot of relationship break-ups going on?
Perhaps it’s not surprising given that many adults have made decisions to alter their lives over the past two, most unusual years, and now that life’s more normal, are beginning to act on them. Relationships, alas, are often a casualty of someone’s desire for change.
But for every person determined on a split, there are always plenty more starting to contemplate one. And what I want to say to those people is that I know, from my clinical experience, how relationships can be saved at this stage in the process if both partners have sufficient will to try.
Leaving a marriage, or other long-term live-in relationship, is a major step, particularly if you have children and maybe even grandchildren together. Family life will never quite be the same again. And, no matter what your age, there’s no guarantee you’ll find another partner who will suit you better. Even if you already have your eye on someone else, you cannot assume that the new love, or lust, is going to work out permanently.
There are, of course, adults who want the peace of being alone. But the reality of single living can turn out to be lonelier and more isolating than expected. So, this is not a step to be taken lightly.
Now, the chances are that among today’s readers there will be some who feel unsafe or totally belittled or worn out because of the behaviour of their partner, and who therefore may have firmly decided they must leave for their own sanity or safety. That’s a different matter.
But if the relationship is not acutely terrible, I believe it’s best to have one last big effort to save it, because sometimes, breathing fresh life and energy into it can turn it around. Even if this doesn’t work, at least you’ll feel you gave it your best shot before admitting defeat. This helps a great deal, because there’s always loads of guilt sloshing around during a break-up, and knowing you genuinely tried to save it, may make the parting easier.
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So, if you’re at the stage of assessing whether your relationship can survive, what should you do?
For many people, the phrase ‘We need to talk’ is the most terrifying in the English language. But talk you must, because if you’re uneasy and unhappy, the strong likelihood is that your other half is feeling similar, and you both need to know the extent of the problem.
A couple I counselled recently found that it was easier to speak about their problems while walking, side by side in the open air. They said it was less confrontational. But however you do it, this is the time to establish what you both feel about the state of your liaison. Are you still happy? Look back on your earlier days – do you in any way resemble the couple you once were, or have you lost a vital connection over the decades? Most of all, can you proceed into old age together and look after each other as you become more frail?
You should also discuss your love life. Are your desires matched or at odds with each other? Are you disappointed by the intimacy, or lack of it, in the relationship? Are there activities you want to try while you’re still young enough? Is your partner prepared to consider them? These issues need airing.
Do something special
Is there a holiday destination you both love but haven’t visited for ages? Could you go there now? Or are there unfulfilled ambitions you’d like to pursue?
I was at a ballet performance the other day and sat next to a couple who had never been before. The woman had always wanted to go to a ballet, and her partner had bought tickets to please her.
Interestingly, he was the one who was completely overwhelmed by the beauty of what he was seeing. But her greatest thrill was that he had brought her somewhere she really wanted to go because he wanted to make her happy.
Is there something you could do together that would be that special? If so, do try it now, because it might be the start of better things.
Turn back the clock
Have some of your loving habits been dropped over the years? Do you still have a cuddle at bedtime before the lights go out? Do you kiss goodbye when one of you leaves the house?
Do you compliment your partner in public? Do you treat him or her with the same respect you once did?
Do you show your gratitude when your partner does something for you? Re-introducing more loving behaviour could generate the fondness and care that may have been missing for a while.
Finally, remember that ending a lengthy relationship has a huge impact on your family and friends. You may, after some thought, decide that there is enough uncertainty in the world right now without adding to it. But there again, you might not.
It may be time to finish it, and if it is, I hope you can manage it smoothly.