Sunday, October 4, 2009

Therapy to End a Relationship

Nothing is forever, except maybe Twinkies. Relationships come and go, but for a variety of reasons men tend not to cope with this reality as well as women do - see here and here. We end up more depressed and isolated, and stay that way longer.

But there is a new movement to make break-ups (especially marriage) easier for everyone involved. In my opinion, men need this more than women. So if you have tried everything and the relationship is doomed, yet you would like to handle this as maturely as possible (without all of your - and hers - childish parts getting activated) maybe a therapist can help. Maybe.

Therapy to Help Couples Break Up?

By Josey Vogels, My Messy Bedroom. Posted October 1, 2009.

Counseling can't keep some couples together. But it can help them break up.

Counseling couldn't keep Rebecca and Philip's relationship together so they decided to see if it could help them break up. "We both knew the relationship was over, but after 10 years together, we were having an extremely difficult time letting go," says 35-year-old Rebecca. "We'd been in counseling but we couldn't save the relationship, so we asked our therapist to help us split up."

If you're going through a tough breakup, and say, throwing yourself off a bridge, while tempting, just isn't practical, therapy might not be such a bad idea.

"I'm all for it," says Anne Robinson, a Montreal psychotherapist who specializes in couple therapy. She's even tried it herself. During her last big breakup, Robinson and her beau went to a therapist "so we could learn to appreciate each other's positive side." (To me, this sounds like a nice way of saying, "So we wouldn't take each other's eyes out.")

"The relationship is an entity unto itself, something you've created separate from the two of you, something you've invested time and energy into," explains Robinson. "When you break up, you almost have to mourn the loss of it."

According to Robinson, therapy can help you through the process. The classic breakup starts with denial (when you try to convince yourself things are better than they are) and is followed by anger (the aforementioned eye-plucking or, more likely, when you're screaming at each other about why he or she is not the person you want them to be, says Robinson).

Then there's the bargaining stage when you try to make up, and be what the other person wants you to be. Which rarely works and you end up getting depressed. Finally, somewhere down the line, you realize the person was never who you wanted him or her to be and you accept them as they are. "It's like waking up from a dream," says Robinson. "Then you can really move on. Once you've divested yourself from the other person, there is closure."

These stages can take years, she admits, especially if you've been together a long time and losing each other is a bit like losing your left foot. Therapy, whether as a couple or alone, might help you get through the process more quickly - or at the very least, make you feel a little less like a basket case. "It can provide a positive, supportive, encouraging relationship, something a lot of people don't have, or a couple has stopped providing for each other."

Robinson says many therapists feel like failures if they can't keep a relationship together, "but really they can be just as big a help when all hope is lost and the relationship must end." In other words, when you realize you're flogging a dead horse.

Apparently, Robinson rarely sees people who know it's over and want help breaking up. "Most come in with some hope," she says. "It's almost sacrilege to look at the possibility of breaking up. In fact, many couples stop therapy prematurely when they realize a breakup is imminent. Better to live with the demons you know and all that. "Sometimes, what we consider commitment," Robinson continues, "is a fear of being single. For some couples, married 20-30 years, the prospect of being single is too scary, so they pretend things aren't so bad and stop the therapy."

Part of the problem is the status we give to being hitched. "Coupledom is like a God in our culture," agrees Robinson, who's single. "If you're not in one, you're made to feel like half of you is missing, you're not as accepted."

With what she sees in her practice, Robinson says she'd rather be single. "Working as a couple therapist, you realize it's not so much better on that side of the fence," she laughs. "Whether you're in a couple or single, it's work. They're just different sets of challenges. Being single you combat loneliness and isolation and being in a couple you fight to hang on to your individuality."

Therapy can help you feel better about yourself, it can help remind you that you're not alone and it's not the end of the world (honest, it's not), whether you're going through a breakup or a life change. The key word here, though, is "can" - therapy doesn't always work.

These days, Rebecca and Philip aren't speaking at all.

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