Many couples are surprised and unprepared when a relationship crisis hits. The threat of divorce can be unexpected, extremely frightening, and painful. Andy and Paola were shocked to find themselves in this situation. Happily, they found their way back to security and happiness.
Emptying the nest prompted a relationship crisis.
After 30 years, Andy and Paola faced a marriage in crisis instead of the successful togetherness they’d expected. While their children launched to college and their own lives, Andy and Paola felt empty. They tried but failed to find the spark they had in their early years. Both partners felt alarmed by desires to divorce but trying to make things better only made matters worse.
Before this crisis, they had a secure marriage.
Andy and Paola met on a trail crew in college. They found each other attractive, with similar passions for nature and the outdoors. Andy found Paola beautiful, fun, and the best possible partner to join him on his backcountry travel adventures. Paola loved Andy’s honesty, integrity, and deep loyalty to his causes and friends.
Happy and secure, Andy and Paola had many years full of fun, purpose, and adventure. They traveled the world together, doing meaningful work for an environmental organization. Eventually, they married and established a home base to raise children.
During their child-rearing years, the couple struggled with increased stress and responsibility. Andy traveled a lot for work and was often gone for a month or more at a time. Meanwhile, Paola became engaged with a local nonprofit while handling childcare duties at home. Both partners were relieved when Andy eventually landed a position that allowed him more time and flexibility to stay home.
Like most couples, they had a long-standing pattern.
For as long as they could remember, Andy and Paola noticed a pattern in their relationship. Everything would be calm between them. Out of the blue, something seemingly insignificant would spark a fight. Paula would shut down for a few days. During that time, Andy gave her the space she needed to recover. Then everything would be fine again from several weeks to a few months until the cycle started again.
Both Andy and Paola worked to accommodate each other and avoid these fights. After decades, though, they accepted this pattern as a part of their relationship. They hoped when the kids were gone and, responsibilities lessened, they’d be able to relax and enjoy each other more.
Couple therapy did more than save them from divorce.
In their moment of crisis, a friend of Paola’s recommended a therapist who specialized in couple work. In therapy, the couple got in touch with anger, frustration, and layers of built-up resentment toward each other. They began to articulate the negative messages they’d heard for decades in cycles of misunderstanding. The couple worked past the anger and resentment. They began to feel compassion for each other as they saw and understood the burden each had carried for the relationship. Eventually, the couple felt relaxed with each other again. Comforting each other through tears, they healed decades of feelings of loneliness, loss, and pain.
Andy and Paola walked out of couple therapy feeling light, loving, and secure in their relationship again. Moreover, they felt stronger and wiser than ever before. They were excited to share their happiness and relief with their children, to relieve them of any worry or feelings of responsibility for the tension they had felt at home.
Not all couples who go to couple therapy have such a happy ending. However, couple therapists trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy can guide most partners out of crisis and distress. Know that help is available if you or someone you care about finds themselves in a relationship crisis.
Note: This is a fictional couple based on real-life stories.