The first month or so of the year can feel like a really challenging period for many couples. A sort of post-Christmas hangover sets in. Credit card bills and the unsettled arguments that were put on hold for Christmas rear their ugly heads. But often a difficult Christmas and New Year is the symptom of more significant underlying issues.
Marriage counselling case study
In this blog we are looking at a real life case study from a couple who sought help from The Spark. Before starting marriage counselling towards the end of 2016, Lucy felt at times that her marriage to Stevie was all but over. Both of them were under great pressure and faced the prospect of an extremely challenging New Year.
At work today everyone appears to have the ‘winter blues’. Although I’m glad to get through January, I feel thankful that the Christmas break was a good time. The normal family rows were noisy, but we coped and managed to deal with them, with lots of laughter and fun around. It feels like quite a change since, over the last year, there were times I thought my marriage was ending.
Looking back with the knowledge Stevie and I now have, we realise there were lots of events that affected us without us realising. As a couple we were hardly functioning; rows would erupt over the silliest things such as who did the most housework. We’d be trying to justify ourselves to each other. At times we were indifferent to each other.
Facing separation and divorce
As a last gasp I contacted a free helpline run by The Spark. Just talking about what had been happening and having someone with expertise listen gave me the courage to open up with Stevie. In what became a last ditch attempt to save our marriage we decided to try marriage counselling.
The counsellor was warm and friendly. She must at times have thought we were the worst couple she had ever worked with! Arguing in front of her with voices raised and angry comments, I half expected her to say we had no hope. But she never judged us or criticised us. It became clear very quickly that she simply wanted to help us.
Love and sex turned to familiarity and schedules
We attended 6 marriage counselling sessions and discussed events over probably the past 8 years of our marriage. Early on we had had trouble getting pregnant. It sounds like a cliché – I guess it is – but love had settled into having sex at the dictate of a hormonal cycle. I was surprised that discussing this seemed to make us both emotional and we realised that we both experienced an intense emotional strain during that process.
Stevie had tried to cope alone and in the session said he really wanted to support me but the disappointments were distressing and really hard on him. Thinking back I had been completely caught up in the process of trying to get pregnant and completely unaware of what Stevie had been experiencing.
During the counselling we talked about what happened following on from those struggles. We eventually fell pregnant and had two beautiful children. We both thought our lives would then feel ‘complete’.
When marriage starts to feel like a trudge
But I experienced a brief period of depression and our children did not sleep for the first two years. Combined with childcare concerns and trying to cope with work our life was feeling like a never ending slog.
Our parents too were struggling. Stevie’s dad was ill and that was tough. He’s a big guy who never seemed to ever be ill but ended up having a major heart attack. It was a body blow for Stevie because he had always been close to his dad. His mum struggled to cope with the aftermath and my parents had their own worries.
Without realising what had happened our roles seemed to have changed and we were now supporting our parents. Counselling helped us to talk through those experiences. I will not lie – it was an emotional process. But we really found our connection again by sharing and discussing the feelings we had had during those difficult times. Feelings we had never properly communicated to each other at the time.
We laughed and at times we were furious with each other. Marriage counselling helped us to understand that this all boiled down to something common to many couples: each of us felt justified in being angry for whatever reason but thought it was dismissed by the other. At times we had to own up to our share of responsibility for what had upset us at times. It was hard and a bit uncomfortable but really worth it.
Marriage counselling helped us to understand that over time we had drifted apart. We were both seething under the surface and at times lonely. With our counsellor we developed strategies to listen to each other and spend time together. We would arrange a sneaky coffee at lunchtime so we could meet up. Sometimes we’d put the kids in nursery, take the day off work but tell no one we were free. We felt like naughty school kids!
Going in to 2017 we are going to monitor for when life becomes a trudge. We have learned to talk about our emotions. We’ve learned its ok to cry or be angry because we understand we will still love each other through it. We understand the value of talking and saying thank you for the little things that show how much we appreciate each other.
Counselling and support
The early months of a new year can be a difficult time for couples and families. Relationship issues, financial worries and depression are common at this time.