If you have a car, you know that it’s important to service it regularly, to make sure that it continues to function reliably. So why is it then so many of us don’t invest the same amount of time and effort into our romantic relationships, which in reality, are far more important than any material item we possess? So often couples come to see me after many years of pain and struggle, only to eventually realise they need assistance, and usually, it is almost too late. What strikes me is how often people are willing to remain in uncomfortable and painful relationships without seeking help. What is it about our culture that encourages this silence around one of the most important facets of our lives?
Most couples see me on the basis of sexual concerns; however, sex is usually the first thing to be affected when there are deeper underlying issues. Unless there are medical or physiological reasons behind sexual issues, often it is a reflection of the relationship. This is not to say that if there are sexual problems the relationship is doomed, merely that it can be a reliable guide towards understanding relationship dynamics. Sometimes it surprises me how long this problem can continue before couple’s seek assistance. Most people would have their car checked out if there was a problem far sooner than they would seek assistance for relationship concerns.
Culturally there seems to be a stigma around seeking therapy or counselling, particularly in Australia. A colleague, who once worked in the USA, has pointed out that sex therapy and relationship counselling is far more commonly sought out in the states than it is in Australia. Removing the shroud of shame around getting external guidance seems to be an important part of making sex therapy more accessible. If you can find someone with whom you feel comfortable, seeing a therapist can literally transform your life. Talking with friends doesn’t seem to be the same because counselling is a very specific skill, and one that is not often innately present. If someone is telling what to do to have a better relationship, that is not counselling. Counselling is about drawing out your own answers, based on what you reveal, with curiousity and sensitivity.
Media has influenced us to believe that when we find the right partner then we shall live happily ever after. So many people are surprised when this is not the case. Relationships take work, commitment and dedication. Just because you have decided to spend the rest of your life together, does not mean that everything will unfold seamlessly. We all bring our own baggage into our relationships and for the most part, require a process of healing within relationships. Trying to lock in a partner for the rest of our life seems to have failed for many people, yet still there is reluctance to reassess the ways in which we conduct our relationships.
So, next time you take your car in for a service, ask yourself if your relationship might require the same time and effort. Don’t limit your energy to fixing the external and material aspects of your life, but rather see self-development and relationship growth as equally important. There is no shame in admitting that you care about your relationship and that you are invested in making it work. Rather than remaining silent about the ways in which you may struggle, talking about it and getting assistance may allow others to follow the same path.