Is My Relationship Broken Beyond Repair?
When people call me for couples counselling, they are often feeling worried or even desperate to fix their relationship and ask “Is my relationship broken beyond repair”? There is no simple answer, as everyone’s situation, environment, strengths and challenges vary. The other truism about relationships is that it takes two people to fix a relationship and only one to end it.
As a counsellor, I don’t have a crystal ball that tells me absolutely whether a relationship is beyond repair. I never tell someone their relationship is unworkable. I never have all the information, especially if I haven’t met both partners. This is an ethical stance for me, as I am not the one to be affected, so it is not for me to decide.
Each partner needs to decide if the relationship is broken beyond repair for themselves, based on their belief and values, realities and dangers. I worry for people in a relationship with coercion, disrespect or violence, but I don’t tell them to leave until they are ready to do so. We make safety plans if they decide to stay. I honour their struggle rather than judge or direct them. We look at all their options and the opportunity, obstacles and consequences of each. They are the ones who have to decide as they are the ones who bear the consequences of that decision.
Research has shown that many things are predictors of relationships beyond repair –things that erode respect and safety. For example, Drs. Gottman in Seattle found that criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling reliably predict divorce. Emotional and physical infidelity (disclosed and undisclosed) are major betrayals that change relationships and how these are dealt with can break a relationship beyond repair, or the healing process can make the relationship better than ever.
My counselling business by-line is relationship repair, maintenance and tune-ups. I believe when two partners come together and honestly explore their own contribution to the difficulties, genuinely listen for understanding, and learn to respond positively to each other’s needs then even relationships on the brink of a breakup can be improved. Never perfect, but good enough. Of course, all violence, coercion and infidelity have to end for the relationship to be truly repaired.
When one or both partners are “leaning out” wondering if the relationship can be repaired or not I encourage them to consider the discernment counselling I offer to explore the realities, wishes and possibilities. Once again, I don’t take a position, but assist them to explore whether things can stay the same, are hopeless or with counselling could be improved. You can visit my website for more information ( https://www.averycounselling.com/discern).
If there are children involved, I encourage both partners to try to repair the relationship if safe to do so because all children want their parents to get along and stay together. If the counselling and changes don’t work, at least you know you can honestly say to your children, that you did everything you could before calling it quits.
Repairing a relationship is not an easy task if the hurt is long-term or the betrayal significant. It is much easier for me to help a couple repair a recent misunderstanding, misfire or injury because it is fresh, and not yet weighted with years of anger or disappointment. Both partners need to be willing, to be honest about their inner experiences and take responsibility for how they convey this to each other.
Even long-term relationships can need a tune-up as we and/or our circumstances change, as life throws us new challenges. Societal change (take COVID for example) stresses relationships. Children leaving home or a change in health status requires adjustments by both parties. Retirement means adjusting roles and responsibilities, leisure and use of time and finances. I often say to clients, that the changes you make now must be maintained, or the relationship will drift back to lack of connection.
Can a broken relationship be repaired? I say often, and it Is always worth the effort to try. Because until you genuinely try to repair you just can’t know, unless you have already decided to leave because both of you are not willing in to put in the effort together