If You’re Both Still Here, There is Hope.

Posted on July 18, 2013


“I’ve never lost a game, I just ran out of time.”  Michael Jordan

“The game isn’t over, ‘til it’s over.”  Yogi Berra

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Lenny Kravitz

A staple of the Ladies Home Journal was the feature, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”  Often when distressed couples come for therapy, they have the same question, “Can this marriage be saved?”  My supposition is that it speaks volumes that both partners are sitting in front of me.  If you are both here, there is still hope.  When couple’s arrive for therapy, there is generally conflict.  Partners are highly reactive to each other.  Frequently, something has happened to damage their connection and injure their attachment (e.g. affairs).  It is common that the partners will see things very differently from one another.  Each partner often sees their partner as the primary source of distress in the relationship.  These are common features in distress couples.  The good news is that success in therapy is not related to the level of distress at the start of therapy.

Therapy is hard work (for the clients more so than the therapist).  It is my job to create emotional safety in the therapy room.  Even so, therapy can be an emotionally draining experience.  Sometimes it hurts to talk about where it hurts.

Can this marriage be saved?  The answer is a qualified “yes.”  First, you both have to want to save the relationship.  One of the first things we assess in therapy is each partner’s commitment to the relationship.  If there is a high level of commitment, that speaks favorably for the prognosis.  Sometimes a partner may have been so wounded over the course of the relationship that they have detached emotionally just to cope with the pain.  When this happens, we need to work on healing of the injuries to the attachment.  Even in those situations, it means a lot that the partner is still willing to work on the relationship.  Second, if there is ongoing addiction, affairs, or abuse, this needs to be dealt with before we can do the couple’s work.  Couples can and do recover from such violations of the relationship, but these need to stop before the healing can begin.  Effective couple’s therapy requires that we can create enough emotional safety for each partner to risk being vulnerable.  It is difficult to do this when a partner is active in any sort of addiction.  The addicted partner may need to get treatment for the addiction and establish a solid level of sobriety before couple’s therapy is warranted.  In similar fashion abusive relationships undermine emotional safety (along with physical safety).  Abuse of one’s partner is never okay.  Before we can work on the relationship, the abusing partner needs to deal with his or her own issues and commit to change.  Additionally the abused partner should also get some help.  The abuse is not your fault, but you need to get treatment for your emotional injuries.  In addition to being betrayals of the relationship, ongoing affairs are competing attachments.  The goal of therapy is generally to create secure attachment between the partners.  This cannot be done while there is an affair partner still in the picture competing for the partner’s attachment.  End the affair, then we can work on healing.

Can this marriage be saved?  If you both are willing to work on it, the odds are well in your favor no matter what the level of your current distress.