What can be done when two people are at very different places in their relationship?
How can a couple move forward when one thinks everything’s okay, wants to continue as normal and maintain the status quo, whilst the other has become increasingly disillusioned and dissatisfied with their life and is restless, looking for more.
If a couple have been together for a long time their roles will, almost certainly have changed over the years, from the excited, post-education, career-focused person, someone who is looking to have relationships, find love and ultimately settle down with a partner and establish a home together.
But with that comes the demands of children, full-on child care and the humdrum of paying the bills and daily life. Years may pass, as babysitters, after school activities, progressing a career and looking after a busy house become the routine order of each and every day.
As time goes by there can be an ‘is this it?’ awakening, where a flash of awareness gives a nudge, a reminder that there should be more to life than this. Whatever happened to all the dreams of travelling the world, setting up a business, becoming proficient in a sport or particular skill, having an exciting and enriching life together, spontaneously trying lots of different things as the whim occurs.
At this point it’s important to remember that two people may have very different views on what makes a good life. If those views don’t align and reveal aspirations that are at odds with each other resentment can start to show, especially if one person feels stuck in a rut or that they’re being perceived as difficult. A ‘now or never’ approach may consequently be experienced. Something has to be done to find a compromise, particularly if one person wants to resolve matters, but is unsure as to how to proceed.
But it becomes more complicated if one person moves out and starts to live a separate life.
When one person leaves and appears to have moved on, whilst the other remains in the family home, hoping for a reconciliation, understandable anger and resentment can erupt about their very different lifestyles, especially if one is seen to be out socialising, living a singleish life, maybe in a nice house, financially okay. It’s not an easy situation to navigate.
First steps require both to have some desire for a resolution, but if there’s pressure to resolve matters quickly it’s unlikely to deliver the desired outcome. It’s fairly certain there were issues before, maybe unacknowledged, but simmering along unresolved. This may be a good time to go back to basics, perhaps start dating each other again and take any suggestion of sex out of the equation.
It’s important for both to work on themselves and remember who they once were, rather than be someone who’s sat at home, hoping that their estranged partner will suddenly ‘see the light’, have a change of heart and return home, full of remorse and a desire to make amends. A far more attractive proposition is for both to appear confident, smart and enjoying life, and yes, maybe wanting the relationship still, but coping well enough as individuals.
Reflect, if you went to an event, a party, a celebration, would you seek out the gloomy person sat alone in the corner to spend the evening with? Let’s face it, the relaxed, smiling person who’s happy and sociable would be far more likely to draw you to them.
If you agree to meet, a degree of neutrality, perhaps even formality, is often a good decision at first, especially if you’re struggling to stay calm about the situation. Maybe choose a public place, like a coffee shop, to calmly talk about how you both feel, what went wrong with the relationship, what you need from each other. This is the time to really listen to each other. Be sure not to finish each other’s sentences or give long-winded, detailed reasons and explanations about what went wrong, about where you feel the problems lay. Avoid interrupting. Do that a few times and see how it goes.
Children may be confused by the relationship difficulties, but calmly telling them age appropriate information together, answering any questions and concerns, reassuring them that they’re in no way responsible and they can see or speak to either parent whenever they wish is important.
Finances may not be evenly spread if one person earns significantly more than the other. Agreeing a budget, or having a shared account that covers day-to-day expenses, at least until the final settlement is drawn up, can make life more tolerable for both.
Friends may have divided loyalties. It can be useful to not share too many gruesome details, particularly if a reconciliation is hoped for. Friends will remember the ‘horror stories’ long after you think all tensions have blown over.
It’s unusual for two people to be at the same stage emotionally as their relationship progresses. Keeping open and honest channels of communication alive can enable a couple to stay in touch, regularly updating each other about their feelings, about what’s happening in their lives and their minds.
Setting aside time to really talk and have meaningful conversations, even when they’re not easy, is a major step in protecting and supporting your relationship, a commitment to it remaining healthy and strong.
Susan Leigh, Counsellor & Hypnotherapist lifestyletherapy.net