There are lots of reasons why couples may choose to come to therapy: premarital counseling, frequent conflicts, communication challenges, infidelity, or parenting stress, just to name a few. But I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a common issue that couples often don’t seek help for, but perhaps should:
Feeling alone despite being in a marriage.
In other words, feeling like they are more like roommates or business partners than spouses.
Time and time again, couples have referenced distance in their marriage as a contributing factor to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness in their relationship. And yet, it seems that many couples don’t seek counseling for distance in their relationship until this issue has festered into more severe or debilitating challenges in marriage.
A couple years ago I saw the movie Hope Springs with my mother (fun fact: my mother and husband both have Masters degrees in the field of Mental Health, along with multiple members of my extended family. Gives new meaning to the study of marriage and family!) In the movie, a couple of retirement age (played by Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) participates in couples therapy in order to reconnect in their relationship.
One reason why I appreciate this film is that it highlights discomfort as a significant barrier to change. The awkwardness is palpable when the couple attempts to change old habits of distancing in the relationship. Their habits of sleeping in separate bedrooms, maintaining rigid boundaries, and avoiding all forms of intimacy are safe: they are well-practiced and predictably stable.
And yet, there is a saddening loss of love and life in their relationship. Ultimately, the wife summons courage to invite her husband to sex therapy, risking the loss of familiarity and security:
Kay: “It feels like Arnold and I aren’t going towards anything anymore. I want a real marriage again.”
Eileen: “I think for that to happen you would have to risk everything just to shake things up.”
What is Hope Springs really about, in my humble opinion?
What holds us back from looking at our spouse in the eyes and vulnerably telling them about our feelings and needs? Fear.
What holds us back from confessing our insecurities and our fantasies? Fear.
What holds us back from asking for help from a mental health professional when we don’t understand why we feel so alone? Fear.
Couples sometimes succumb to the fear of rejection and failure when they perceive distance in their marriage, and understandably become paralyzed. However, sometimes couples acknowledge their feelings and needs, and find the courage in themselves to ask for help.
In what may be the most uncomfortable bedroom scene of all time, observe how simple acts of risk, courage, and hope facilitate healing:
Did you see the subtle bravery? I find it inspiring.
Are you feeling brave? Connect. If you need help, give us a call.
-Megan Lundgren, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist