When is it too late to save a relationship?
The short answer:
When you’ve let too much resentment accumulate between you. You probably no longer see the good in your partner as outweighing the bad. It’s likely you have few positive feelings left for your partner, or perhaps no feelings at all. It’s surprising how many couples come to couple therapy at this stage of their relationship. Sometimes their only task is now admitting how little they have left to save.
I’ve seen many couples who’ve lost the aliveness and connection in their relationship years before, but they haven’t wanted to admit it to themselves because it was too painful, or felt too confronting and difficult. Usually their sense of passionate engagement diminished gradually. There were many opportunities to do something about it but they didn’t.
It felt too hard – but only because they didn’t realise how much harder it was going to get if they did nothing…
Too many couples are only motivated to do something about getting their relationship back on track when something traumatic happens. Then, they go into crisis mode and are shaken from numbness or silent shut-down, into panicked re-engagement. However, sometimes it’s too late for them to reconnect to the attraction and love they once felt. It’s especially painful if it took an infidelity to shake the couple out of their complacency coma.
Years of caring less, or burying hearts’ desires can lead to a place from which there is no return. The tragedy is that most people who end up at that place deeply regret having let things go so far before trying to get it back.
Another frustration in relationships in peril is that frequently, one partner saw things deteriorating and tried to take action, but the other didn’t take them seriously.
Frequently, one partner tried hard to get to counselling or reconnect earlier in the relationship, but couldn’t get their partner to admit there was a problem.
It typically goes something like:
Partner 1’s dissatisfaction and pleas for intimacy rise over time; they approach partner 2 asking to talk, to go to counselling or relationship education. They talk about getting inspired for having more sex, or wanting to feel more loved.
However, Partner 2 isn’t keen, doesn’t like to acknowledge there’s a problem, or just doesn’t see why the relationship should require any effort. They may subscribe to the idea that relationships should just happen – without action or reflection.
Eventually Partner 1’s sadness and frustration turns to resentment and grief. Their desire drops away. Their requests are replaced by silence.
This can happen over many months or years. This may well mark the point where it becomes to late for saving the relationship. Partner 1 has checked out.
Suddenly Partner 2 feels this frightening shift in Partner 1. He or she realises that Partner 1 no longer ‘nags’, no longer cares enough to be openly distressed. Partner 1 may not even be around that much anymore and they’ve certainly stopped planning for the future and suggesting family activities.
Suddenly, after years of avoiding thinking about the problems, Partner 2 panics! He or she realises it may be too late. As they scramble and panic, perhaps finally asking for couple therapy instead of avoiding it, Partner 1 may already have their bags half-packed.
Sadly, this is the point at which we see so many couples enter therapy.
As they sit on my couple therapist’s couch I see Partner 1 raising an eyebrow at Partner 2’s panic. Partner 1 is usually feeling very little for Partner 2 anymore and is surprised to see such emotion where for so long there has been withdrawal.
Sometimes, Partner 1 is only there looking for a calm way to say they’re leaving.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The lessons are quite simple, but they take the courage to be honest and to take positive action even when it’s uncomfortable:
If you start to lose vitality in your couple relationship; if you feel resentment and disconnection growing, that’s the time to take real action together. That’s the time to find passion and greater engagement with life and each other again.
Don’t leave it too late.
Don’t ignore your partner’s pleas for closeness and intimacy.
Just BE the love that you ARE.