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Is it Time to Say “Goodbye”?


As a couples’ therapist, I encounter people that married for so many different reasons, including finishing school, starting a career, and figuring that marriage was the next big thing to check off their list to adulthood. Some married in fear that their biological clock was ticking by, and they wanted the hetero-normative experience of starting, and raising, a family. Many decided to say vows to please their parents, and/or to live a lifestyle that was congruent with the core value structure defined for them by their culture and family of origin. Some people married for money, or for social status, or even for the ring and the bling that would go with it. Other people I work with in therapy acknowledge that they married partners that didn’t conform to their family or societal expectations as an act of rebellion, and many married because the sex was “amazing.” It’s interesting to me how many people admit in therapy that they “knew” they were making a big mistake as they walked down the aisle, but they were too embarrassed to call the whole thing off. Thankfully, many of the couples I see, actually married for love.

 

As you contemplate your own circumstances, it's important to consider what your motivations were when you took those vows, and how those things have shifted over time. As we age, we move through different stages of human development, and with life experiences, we gain wisdom. The things that mattered so much when a marriage began, sometimes matter less at mid-life and beyond. Along with the wisdom of age often comes a fear of the unknown ahead, and it can get a little existential. Perhaps you or your spouse are dealing with aging parents, and/or adult children that are having a hard time navigating their own lives. Maybe you’re considering a late life career shift or retirement, to find your true calling and purpose. Perhaps there are regrets over financial decisions made long ago that now limit your options. And maybe, just maybe, your connection with your partner has become a little frayed around the edges. You spend less time doing fun things with each other. You no longer enjoy the same activities or envision the same future. You can’t remember when you last had a good laugh together. Sex seems less enjoyable - if you’re doing it at all. Everything feels a little burdensome, and you really can’t pinpoint when you started feeling this way. This is when it’s time to get real about your situation.

 

Couples typically wait more than two and a half years to engage in therapy after realizing they have a problem.(1)  What happens during that time contributes to further disconnection, as couples usually lean out of the relationship instead of into it, in an effort to reduce their personal stress and discomfort. What that often looks like is a combination of a pursuit of separate interests and friends, along with a more frequent use of mal-adaptive coping mechanisms, like alcohol, porn or retail therapy. These behaviors might escalate to include an extra-marital affair, a big-ticket purchase made unilaterally, or a complete makeover that changes the way one person looks and relates to others. Often this is labeled as a “mid-life crisis” and one person usually feels completely sidelined by their partner’s actions. 

 

So, what should you do? Is it time to say “Goodbye” and file for divorce? Maybe, but not so fast. It’s a lot less expensive to engage in couples therapy than it is to hire divorce attorneys, and the outcome could be so much better! According to statistics on couples therapy, 70% of couples choose to stay in their marriage after an average of twelve sessions in couples counseling, and 90% of couples that work with a highly trained couples therapist report an increase in their emotional and physical well-being.(2)  With more couples therapy sessions, the statistics show that those numbers improve.(2) Before you talk with a divorce attorney, consider reaching out to a few marriage therapists and schedule no-cost consultations with each, to see if one of those therapists has experience working with other couples who have similar circumstances in their marriage. You’ll want to find a therapist that understands your specific needs and has the expertise, as well as the tools, to help you and your spouse to communicate better and to manage conflict more effectively. It truly is possible to create a new vision for your marriage with your spouse. It will require time and attention, along with a willingness to be vulnerable and accountable, and good conversation about the changes that need to be implemented in your relationship. Marriages – even those that have been impacted by infidelity, can be saved, if both parties are willing to do some work and get real with themselves and their partner. The truth will come out one way or another – in therapy or in court, so why not start with the confidential approach that can lead to healing? Should you choose to divorce, even after doing several sessions of couples therapy, you’ll walk away knowing yourself better, and with the perspective that you made a real effort to honor the commitment that you made to each other many years ago. If your decision is to call it quits, then a good couples’ therapist should also be able to help you both with attorney referrals and finding the support that you’ll need while navigating the painful process of splitting up. 

  

Sources

1.     National Library of Medicine. William Doherty et al. J Marital Family Therapy 2021 Oct.

2.     Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 2021


Katey Villalon, LMFT, IRT

Call: 512-537-6339  Email: Therapy@kateyvillalon.com 

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