There appears to be a huge mismatch between the romantic fairy story of “Happy Ever After” and the reality for many married couples who find the reality of being married to their spouse very different than their ideal. This puts a huge strain on a couple’s relationship from the outset. For many couples the problems start to manifest themselves quite quickly after all the razzmatazz of the ceremony is over.
So why do couples say nothing?
I believe there are a number of reasons, which change over time within the relationship, but without doubt the longer people bury their heads in the sand and avoid communicating effectively with their spouse and seeking help, the greater the danger that the relationship will be doomed.
Do I Deserve Better?
There is no lonelier place than being in a relationship which isn’t working. Loneliness erodes confidence and sense of self-worth so it becomes more and more difficult to believe that you have a voice which has a right to be heard.
Our beliefs colour how we perceive the world, we interpret everything which happens on a daily basis based on what we believe and we make everything fit our story about ourselves and what we deserve. Where one partner is being controlling, regularly makes negative comments about their spouse, is aggressive and unpleasant the impact is significant. The person on the receiving end finds it more and more difficult to speak out and even more difficult to tackle the problem face on or to leave.
In these situations the person on the receiving end sees themselves as a powerless victim and becomes less and less resourced. This is one of the main reasons why so many people stay within an unhappy or abusive marriage.
It takes courage to say enough is enough, I deserve better.
Talking to others means that you have to admit to yourself and others that things are not working. There is a feeling that if I let others know how unhappy I am or how difficult things are they will think less of me.
I know of several young couples whose marriage has broken down very quickly after what looked like a fairy tale wedding who later say that they knew things were going badly wrong long before the wedding but they didn’t know how to tell their intended, their parents, friends and family. They feel under pressure to continue as they don’t want to hurt or disappoint anyone.
This is just as true for marriages over time. A marriage involves so many people: The In-laws, the out-laws, children, relatives, friends and work colleagues. Admitting there is a problem within the marriage brings with it a sense of failure and so much potential hurt and disappointment for so many others.
Understanding that admitting there is a problem is the first stage of finding a solution. Until this happens there is no possibility of working things out and creating a positive solution.
When things feel overwhelming it can feel safer to do nothing. Staying stuck may be incredibly uncomfortable but it also can feel like the safest option. It’s part of the fight or flight mechanism which is hot wired into all of us. Doing nothing becomes a way of dealing with the problem. The outcome is that nothing improves, in fact things often get worse as communication becomes even more ineffective, and every word brings with it huge amounts of baggage.
It’s like looking at an iceberg. 90% of the ice is floating beneath the surface. Seemingly small things trigger a disproportionate response from the other which has less to do with what is being said at the time, and more to do with everything which has gone on and been unsaid over time. It is truly toxic!
If you always do what you have always done you will continue to get what you have always got. That is the reality. Unless individuals within the couple are prepared to give themselves permission to speak out and to find a different way forward, things will continue to be difficult and are very likely to deteriorate.
There Is Hope
Communicating effectively is crucial. My experience of working with unhappy couples has demonstrated time and time again that whilst couples may be using what seems to be the same words they are often speaking entirely different languages.
Be wary who else you involve. If the relationship is really struggling the chances are you’ll need some help from a source that you trust. Getting professional help can be really useful.
Working together to understand the needs of one another and being prepared to put the past behind you and work on creating a new, better relationship based on love and mutual respect is entirely possible if both parties are prepared to engage fully in the process