Counselling gives couples the tools to deal with conflict, writes Marchelle Abrahams.
* Kourtney's wedding day was that out of a fairytale, complete with her Prince Charming who had come to sweep her off her feet. That’s what many of us envision our wedding to be like, but our hopes and dreams of a modern fairytale fall flat once the honeymoon is over.
After four years of marriage and six years of dating, Kourtney's story resonates with so many young couples who think the hard work ends once the vows are said and the rings exchanged.
Even the divorce stats don’t bode well for couples planning to tie the knot. According to the latest figures from Stats SA, 45.4 percent of 2015 divorces came from marriages that lasted less than 10 years.
There could be a number of reasons contributing to the high rate of divorce. I put the question to Pauline Sevitz, a registered social worker in private practice and counselling manager with the Family and Marriage Society of SA (Famsa).
“At the time it seems like couples can’t be in any worse pain than they already are. It’s important to understand that each relationship has different challenges,” she says.
She adds that when a couple get together, it brings together two complex individuals.
Is happily ever after just a dream?
I asked Kourtney if she is happy. She takes a moment to consider the question: “Mmmm That’s a bit tricky. I know I love him full heartedly, but there are times when I hate him.”
She says their biggest barrier is communication, or lack thereof, adding “we lack in terms of effectively communicating our fears, thoughts, issues, challenges we have individually or with one another”.
Sevitz agrees that communication can be a deal breaker when it comes to making or breaking a marriage.
“Communication is the key to any relationship. Learning skills is important, and couples take a lot from their upbringing.
“For example, if you come from a family where you haven’t seen parents communicate effectively and marry someone who comes from a family where there is limited communication, it can be confusing and disorienting for your partner.”
She then lists miscommunication and issues with in laws and infidelity as some of the biggest problems couples come to her with.
And, with the onset of the technological age, people are building relationships online; seeing images of other men or women on their partner’s phones - it’s a recipe for disaster.
Kourtney also mentions her frustration with not being able to express herself properly.
The same goes for her husband: “I believe my husband’s childhood and not having a father figure is a primary contributor to his moods, his emotional guard, and his inability to communicate.
“The same for me - I guess some aspects of my childhood and unhealthy relationships I had with prior boyfriends also affects our relationship”.
Sevitz says either one or both partners can opt for counselling.
“Things might have happened in previous relationships that created a sense of distrust, which they bring into the marriage.”
To remedy the situation, Sevitz suggests sessions that will delve into what he/she can do that will be helpful to feel their current partner is loyal.
Conflict also seems to be a bone of contention in most marriages, with some couples choosing to sweep it under the rug and ignore issues completely because one or the other fears confrontation.
This is not the route to take, notes Sevitz - it will all come to a head with an argument anyway.
“It’s important to be aware of what our partner’s trigger points are.
"The context of the conflict might come from a place of hurt, abandonment issues or insecure attachment issues.
“All issues come from an emotional side. Once you recognise it, it might not be the time to discuss it.”
Instead, she advises to call a timeout, compose themselves and “go for a walk to contain yourself”.
Come back later and say “let’s talk about it”. Of course, Sevitz says it’s easier said than done. So, she recommends the use of “I” messages: Instead of saying “you are upsetting me”, say “I am upset”. This shifts the blame off someone else.
But she also stresses that it’s okay for couples to have a difference of opinion: “Sometimes we can accept that we can agree to disagree - agree in a respectful way how to deal with the differences.”
This could even be the time to ask yourself: What are the important battles and pick them wisely.
“Couples can get into fights about basic things. The important thing is to always apologise.”
Kourtney will be the first to admit that the age gap between her and her hubby and her constant partying does drive a wedge between them at times. She says they struggle to find a compromise, and she’s even willing to try couples’ counselling but he’s not keen on it.
“Sometimes when in the heat of conflict, it’s good to have someone with an outside perspective,” says Sevitz, before adding that partners can’t be forced to go for counselling but there is value in individual counselling.
“Change begins with us - a change in one part of a system brings about change in other parts.”
* Not her real name.
FAMSA offers two programmes that couples can take to give them the tools to deal with conflict. They are:
An internationally-used programme designed to help you develop a strong and growing relationship. Through this programme you will learn, as a couple, to share your feelings and ideas and develop the necessary skills to work together to achieve your goals.
The programme will assist you, as a couple, to build on your strengths and deal with problematic areas of your relationship more effectively. The programme facilitates increased communication skills, helping you to increase your intimacy.
* Visit http://famsa.org.za/