I was always a skeptic about couples counselling. After all, you can’t manufacture love. You can’t ‘talk’ it into existence if it has been extinguished. Better just to accept love is gone, tidy up the mess and move on, than accept a life half lived.
But dealing day in day out with people who loves have been trampled by anger, humiliated by betrayal, frozen by grief and withered by neglect, it is clear than love never really is extinguished. It remains, squashed, around the edges. Sometimes transformed into anger and frustration, often loitering in disappointment or hurt and always present in the care and concern for children’s other parent.
So it is not a surprise that with expert help and commitment, two people can reopen channels of communication, revaluate, learn from the bad stuff and move forward together in pursuit of a shared future. The shared accomplishment and allegiance of attending couples counselling in itself can be enough to fan those fragile sparks of love into something a little more substantial.
That is not to say it is easy. Couples counselling is exhausting, frustrating and painful. But it is also enlightening, humbling and strengthening. Separating is not easy either. The choice has to be made about whether a new beginning should be made together or apart.
Is couples counselling always successful? It depends how you define success. Not everyone who attends couples counselling will fall magically back in love with their partner and live happy ever after, although many do. For some, divisions will be too deep and distance too great to conquer.
But there are still little successes. There is a huge satisfaction and loyalty in knowing you did your utmost to try to work through relationship breakdown. Couples counselling is also a learning experience. It is an opportunity to recognise where mistakes were made and outdated priorities can be rejigged so they aren’t carried into new relationships (For every person who looks for a new partner more in keeping with their changed self, there is another who hooks up with a new partner who is simply a different version of the old one and we all know how that story ends!)
It is also an opening to try to create some level of communication with your estranged partner. Separation creates a whole multitude of practical as well as emotional decisions that need to be talked through. They remain joint decisions and will do for some time if you are continuing to co parent after separation. However, even if there are no reasons whatsoever to clap eyes on each other post separation, there are considerable benefits to maintaining a dialogue.
All too often separating couples try to use the legal process as a means of communicating the one thing the Court system is totally ill equipped to deal with: feelings. Airing grievances via Court papers and solicitors’ correspondence is perpetually unsatisfying and horribly expensive. It makes much more sense to deal with issues in the more conducive and private arena of couples counselling, from an emotional and economic perspective and move forward to deal with the changes that need to be made with a clearer head.
Couples who can separate their feelings from their financial decisions can and do reach speedy and sensible financial settlements that can be implemented with reduced expense. Maintaining a dialogue with your partner means you use your family lawyer only for the bits of the process where he or she can really add value.
In short, if couples counselling does not save your marriage, it may well save you a heap of regret, as well as a fortune in legal fees.