When the honeymoon begins to fade
The number one problem that brings couples to relationship counselling is disconnection. Even in relationships that started out well.
A common trajectory is that we find a partner with whom we can see a future, more often than not, with whom our general dreams, needs and hopes are aligned. We experience first, the euphoria that comes with a brand new romantic relationship. Our brains are flooded with “happy hormones” like dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin, all responsible for the intensely positive emotions we feel when we first fall in love.
Being in this honeymoon phase generally means our tolerance levels are high, as is our compassion for one another, a willingness to extend empathy, and usually also a need for physical closeness and intimacy. This blissful honeymoon phase can last anywhere from 6 months to two years.
As couples become more settled in their relationship and the pressures of day-to-day life creep in, the feeling of being disconnected from one another can often develop, and ultimately become the “new norm”. These pressures may come in form of family or financial stress, the couple’s differing opinions on their hopes and dreams, or the trials and tribulations that come with raising children.
Sometimes the thought of addressing obvious relationship deterioration is harder than just continuing on with the way things have become. Life gets in the way. We are busy, distracted and prefer to avoid conversations that are hard and potentially painful.
As we grow apart from each other more and more, emotional and sexual intimacy fades, creating a new fragility in our relationship. Suddenly, and sometimes, unexpectedly, we can become more susceptible to compliments and romantic advances by others and we may begin unconsciously, to seek another’s admiration, attention or adoration.
Can relationships survive affairs?
A recent survey on Business Insider reported that around 45% of men and 35% of women in long term relationships admitted to being unfaithful to their partners at some point in their relationship.
Contrary to common belief, infidelity does not necessarily mean the end of the relationship. It is certainly possible for both partners to heal and in a sense rediscover or even restart their relationship.
Bestselling author and relationship expert, Esther Perel recently outlined three distinct phases of healing that each individual must navigate in order to be able to move on and rebuild their relationship after infidelity.
Phase 1: Crisis
The initial stage of affair recovery, the “crisis phase,” occurs when an affair is disclosed or discovered. This phase is marked by intense emotion – a tremendous feeling of uncertainty and (for the one who was betrayed) the sense that his or her entire reality has just collapsed. It’s often accompanied by up-and-down feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, denial, loss and, eventually, hopefully, acceptance “that” it has happened.
Phase 2: Meaning Making
The “meaning-making phase” is about understanding what the affair meant to the person who had it and how it has impacted the betrayed person. By exploring the core meaning of the affair, the couple may gain a clearer picture of what led to it – where the roots of the infidelity began. It’s not about assigning blame, but getting answers. Answers that may help relieve some frustration, and prepare you to make healthy decisions about the relationship moving forward.
Phase 3: Vision
This final stage of recovery, what Perel calls the “vision phase,” is about looking toward the future, whether together or alone. Either with or without professional help, you may become ready to commit to staying in the marriage – to learn new skills and work toward creating a relationship that’s better than before. Or you may realise that the relationship was never stable or that values and beliefs have changed. While challenging, this acceptance of reality helps to truly process the pain.
Wherever you see yourself in this process, Perel’s view is that it’s never too late to seek help. Yes, friends and family are invaluable supports. But the goal of a professional therapist is to use extensive training and experience to guide you in making the kind of decisions that will help you emerge from infidelity as a stronger, happier person. One that, in time, can learn to trust – and even love again.
Here, at Open Sky Psychology, we can help you understand the origins of feeling disconnected from your partner and how to deal with these feelings. It is important to know that many relationships can – and have been – repaired with a bit of hard work and the help of a qualified professional.
We know from experience that going through a hard time in your relationship can sometimes actually lead to a sense of renewal, and in the long run a new relationship between the two of you can be forged, based on deeper, hard-won mutual understandings.
Petra Phipps is a Psychotherapist at Open Sky Psychology. For an appointment with Petra or one of our other practitioners, visit the Our Team page or call 1300 296 641.