Therapists at Tavistock Relationships, the internationally renowned couple therapy charity, frequently see couples experiencing relationship difficulties following life transitions.
Life transitions include planned milestones, like getting married, having children, buying a house, starting a new job, and retiring. Some transitions are unwanted and unplanned, for example, redundancy, illness, and bereavement.
Pardis Samiee, integrative therapist and marketing manager for Tavistock Relationships, explains: ‘Whether planned or unplanned, positive or negative, life transitions force change into our lives. Change can move us from feeling comfortable and stable to unsettled and agitated.
‘The emotion evoked by change controls our feelings and subsequent behaviour. Our reactions are very individual, so every transition, whether big or small, can affect the relationships we have with those closest to us.’
As human beings, we crave security
From the moment we are born, we thrive under the safety of an emotional connection and attachment with our caregiver. The loss of control that change can cause, regardless of the circumstance, can leave us feeling a whole range of emotions – from fear and frustration to anger to anxiety. The resulting behaviours can put strain and pressure on even the most stable of relationships.
Coping with loss
Unplanned change, or a life event that happens ‘out of time’, such as the loss of a child, can be particularly difficult for couples to deal with. In fact, loss is a common theme as we transition through life. Whether we lose a job, a way of living or purpose, it can leave us feeling the same emotions as a bereavement.
We all work through stages of grief at different times, from denial to anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Our different responses can leave us feeling irritable, preoccupied, and dissatisfied in our relationships, and cause us to complain, criticise, and blame.
We all have different coping mechanisms
The way we cope with life changes is based on a very individual mix of genes, previous experience, and our environment. So it’s no surprise that we often deal with the same adjustment in a very different way from our partner.
The challenge comes when we become frustrated with their way of dealing with it. Whilst one may withdraw, the other might want to talk. When one wants to fix a problem, the other might see things as far more complex. We become disconnected and less intimate.
Therapists can help couples to cope with life transitions
Therapists work with couples to understand what they need and how best to support each other. They can help couples to focus on what they can control, rather than on uncertainty and loss. And they help couples to explore why they feel a certain way and to better understand emotions from each other’s perspective.
For more information, go to their website or call 020 7380 1960.