Emily Hodgkinson discusses ‘what is a modern day relationship’ and why couples are scared to approach relationship counselling….
As a relationship therapist I’m often struck by how people arrive at my office at their wit’s end after struggling to deal with the most painful conflicts and heavy atmospheres for months and even years. It can be tempting to wonder, why don’t they get help sooner? There are lots of reasons of course, including fear of the unknown, and not being aware of how counselling can help. I believe there’s something else at work too which is to do with the ideals we have about what a relationship ought to be like, and our unspoken sense of shame when we do not live up to those ideals. You know the scene: it’s a romantic movie: boy meets girl (never boy meets boy or girl meets girl, for a start); they fall instantly and deeply in love and have endless wild yet fulfilling and beautiful sex; they get married and live happily ever after, without ever having to deal with the laundry, disappointment in one another, growing in different directions, getting unexpectedly pregnant, having affairs, losing sexual attraction or any one of a long list of the things that happen in real life. This is the picture of ‘ideal’ relationships that we get bombarded with all our lives, and even though we know or at least suspect it isn’t true, we just can’t shake that feeling that somehow we have ‘failed’ if we don’t live up to it.
Meg Barker’s recent book ‘Rewriting the Rules’ is a modern relationship guidebook for us all, whether single or partnered, straight bi or gay, separating or trying to stick together, or considering alternatives: it names many of the assumptions we tend to make about what a successful relationship ought to look like, offers more choices for deciding what we want from our relationships and suggests ways that couples can start to talk about these questions. As Meg says, “All day long we are bombarded by rules about relationships: who to be in order to get and keep one, what to want and expect from one, and how to know when it isn’t working any more.” For example, there are chapters on rewriting the rules of conflict, breaking up, and commitment; the idea that a successful relationship is one that lasts for a long time (preferably forever!) just doesn’t apply to many relationships: it is normal and healthy for people to grow and change and sometimes decide it is time to move on. I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to give themselves more choices about how they ‘do’ relationship.
I see many couples coming to relationship therapy with weighed down by the idea that they have ‘failed’ because they are fighting or because things aren’t perfect. Of course, if you’re suffering and feel totally stuck, it is good to recognise when you need help, but it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Many of us have a rule that says conflict is bad and means you have got something wrong in your relationship. But relationships can be hard work at times, and fights can be healthy and necessary – as long as both sides get to be heard. Couples therapy is a great place to learn new skills for improving all your relationships, and many couples grow in strength from having faced their differences directly, and find a much deeper security than comes from that romantic ideal. And, importantly, when they can start to deal with their differences in a more constructive way, they discover that it causes less pain.
Emily is a highly trained UKCP registered relationship therapist working at the Rutland House Counselling & Psychotherapy in Leicester. Should you wish to book an appointment with Emily please contact us For further information.