Couple relationships: don’t try to get back what you had!

Couple relationships: don’t try to get back what you had!

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I/I took the one less travelled by/and that has made all the difference. Robert Frost The Road Less Travelled

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it” Yogi Berra

It was a cool but bright spring afternoon when Alice and Jim entered my consulting room. This was their second session of couple therapy and I checked in with them to determine their overall goals for the counselling. “We want” began Alice, with Jim looking across at her nervously, “we want things to be back to the way they were. We were happy then, at the beginning.”

Alice and Jim had been married for 17 years, they had a few years left on their mortgage, two children aged 16 and 14 who were pretty much independent and both of them had good jobs. But they had reached a real fork in the road. They were “not communicating” they said and felt the zest had left their relationship. What they wanted was to recapture this zest, this fizz, and so they had been visiting old haunts: cafes, pubs, clubs and anywhere they could to revive the spark in their relationship and rekindle their desire.

But they had failed, and when they failed, boy did it come with such a sense of failure that brought them both low.

Jim looked at me. “We’ve tried everything. Nothing seems to work, all those things we used to do, that made us happy, just now make us sad; and you know, a lot of the places we used to go to, torn down! Like us: torn down!” I felt a wave of empathic sadness, almost hopelessness, come over me for this couple. I shifted in my seat and said “have you ever tried a pottery class?” They looked at me dumfounded.

Alice was the first to speak. “What? This is pretty serious you know. Pottery. Neither of us have any interest in pottery and this sounds like you are really trivialising our problems.” Jim coughed and said “Actually, uh, Alice, I wouldn’t mind giving it a go”. Alice stared at him, as if she couldn’t get to grips or recognise this alien pottery-making creature next to her. They both went very quiet.

I broke the silence. “the thing is, you want to recapture what you had in the past, but you’re two different people now and the past is gone. If you do-by some miracle- recapture the past though, where do you think you will end up being in a few years’ time?”

They both thought. Jim said “here again?” I nodded and said “you can’t go back, that part of your life is over and perhaps that’s what all this is really about; you need to find out what you haven’t done and try it out. You need to build new connections forged out of new possibilities for a new future, not an old one. Hence pottery, or something similar.”

So that’s just what Alice and Jim did, and over the next few months found and shared new things to try and do in their relationship, in the process creating new and novel connections between them, and in turn rekindling the desire between them, not the desire of two twenty-year olds but two midlifers finding a new path, a road less travelled in a long-travelled marriage.

 

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