Jane and Joe walk into my office after a betrayal in their marriage has led to heartache, loss of hope and grief beyond compare. They look to me with tears in their eyes and ask:
“Is this something that we can save?”.
“Is this something we can save?” is not a simple yes or no answer. To help frame the exploration of this important question, I often have people visualize the relationship as a container. This visualization allows us to explore the question “what can your relationship contain, hold or withstand?” The container between two people starts starts empty and is weak. It is fragile and vulnerable to insecurity, jealousy, and rejection. We begin to strengthen this container by spending time together, laughing together and generally enjoying each other. Slowly we start to fill the container with more of ourselves.
At first it feels impossible to fill this container with any truth about ourselves that we believe might weaken the container. If we keep doing this, the container will not fully develop and will remain weak and fragile. However as we begin to honestly share the hidden parts of ourselves and our past, we realize that our container is either able to handle these truths, or it can’t and the container may become damaged.
Sometimes the container becomes nicked, cracked and fragile from enduring the pressure of unmanageable challenge.
The work of repair takes intention, “what went wrong, how did I feel, how did you feel, how do we fix it, or join together to endure it?”
Eventually something may happen that feels like too much for the weakened container to hold. The couple feels lost as to what to do to make it stronger again. The container, when explored, leads the couple to navigating the tiny moments of avoidance, denial and betrayal that have cracked the container and not been repaired. They were able to deny that the cracks were present all the way up until it shattered. But once it is shattered is it too late to fix or could they attempt to begin again?
The building of this container seems effortless at the beginning of a relationship. Wanting to spend time together, share all their thoughts and dreams and curiosity with each other feels easy. As time weighs in on the relationship and changes occur in the couple’s life, it gets harder to build the container. Sometimes the container feels strong and supportive and almost as if the strength of the container is bomb proof. Sometimes it may feel as though the container will always be there and we neglect to tend to the things that keep the strength of the container.
If you are wondering about the strength of your container, start by examining what it took to create the container in the first place.
Are you still doing those things in your relationship?
Are you finding ways to delight in your partner?
Are you repairing the damage that has been caused to your container, even if it feels easier to avoid it?
Are you still finding ways to be curious about your partner?
If you and your partner are looking for ways to strengthen your container, one of our couples therapists would be happy to help guide you through this very important process. Take a look at our Therapists page, or Call 616-207-2727 and our care coordinator will help get you connected to the right therapist.