A client of mine has agreed to share the following story, anonymously, in the hopes it helps someone else in their relationships. This client is an older father, let’s call him Sam, who has previously been married before. He works from home and takes on the bulk of the caring responsibilities for his two young children. His wife of 10 years works full time and they have no family in their state to lean into when they need help. They do have a wide and established community which they invest heavily into, however, in recent years, with two young children, they have started to drift apart as a couple.
They are kind, generous people, who miss each other, but have not felt emotionally connected to each other since the birth of their first daughter 6 years ago. They have found themselves isolated and lonely with seemingly no ways to find their way ‘home’. The relationship is still physical, but it is missing the emotional connection and sense of ‘team’ that used to be there before.
They soldier on, hitting family milestones, like first year of school and the last child out of nappies, and celebrating birthdays, Christmas and the like. But things are deteriorating. Talks of couples counselling are put forward by Sam, but are avoided by his wife Isabel. Both have self diagnosed depression, Sam is seeing me for treatment, but Isabel wants to do it herself. They share the same bedroom and family home, but all the energy goes into the children. It feels to them as though there’s not enough energy in the world to revitalise their love for each other. Yet they do love each other, and they love their family. And they keep showing up, despite how much it hurts. They don't know how to do it any better, but they do need to do it better. Their marriage depends on it.
The crossroads are looming, Sam has attached himself emotionally, and secretly to another woman in his community. We talk this through in terms of what this means for his wife, Isabel and their relationship. He takes a step back and re-evaluates. His goal is to rekindle his marriage, and so he moves his attention back towards Isabel.
Together we come up with the following plan, and share it with you in the hopes that it is helpful for you, or someone you know:
1. Talk about where you are both at. Honestly, respectfully and openly. Be constructive. Try to avoid ‘below the line’ behaviours like blaming, belittling, avoiding. Stay ‘above the line’ and take personal responsibility for your contribution to your relationships problems.
2. Set small goals that are easily achievable. How do you eat an elephant/repair a relationship? One bite at a time/with small steps. Break down success into small pieces. Schedule a date night, turn off the tv and play a game together. Sit outside and reconnect. Then start to tackle the pieces that are hurting you.
3. Invest in yourself. Fit your own life mask first. Having a young family is a lot of work. It can feel isolating and lonely and this can deplete your available resources to connect and support a marriage.
4. Invest in the marriage. For Sam and Isabel, there is no easy fix. It took 6 years to get here, and it may take time to rebuild and repair. Most couples in this position require new tools for their toolkit. New ways of being and building together, and new ways of relating. You’ll find lots of ideas here on this website, and you will also benefit from professional help.
5. Professional help. Therapists, psychologists and counselors all do great work in this space. The trick is to find someone you connect with, that has good credentials and positive referrals from your GP/community. Don’t be afraid to leave your therapist if they aren’t right for you, but do persist until you find someone.
Relationships take a lot of care and focus to flourish. They are often hard to be in. In Sam and Isabel’s case, their relationship hasn’t had the level of investment that it needs to be successful. But it can be repaired. The magic trick is to rebuild it, together.
How do you repair your relationships?