14/05/2014 14:04 BST | Updated 14/07/2014 06:59 BST

Do You Really Want to Save That Relationship?

So. Your relationship is in trouble. Maybe you know what's wrong. Maybe you don't. But in either case, there's an elephant in the room and no one wants to talk about it. Or you think you're talking about it but you're really not.

Like maybe you're arguing about sex but the problem isn't the sex; that's just the symptom. It's really that you aren't talking any more. Or you're really bugged about his excessive drinking. Or the way she blasts you with her constant criticism. Maybe you just don't like each other very much any more - or at least right now.

So you think perhaps moving house will make everything okay. Or maybe taking that job transfer and going to a whole new city will do the trick. Fresh start and all, right?


You get past the distraction of talking about plans and organising things, and the house hunting and selling and buying, and the packing and the unpacking and sorting out where the shops are in your new area, and making friends with some neighbours and then it creeps in again. The troubled relationship rears its ugly head. Yes, that's right. It followed you. Go figure.

So you get a puppy. Oh, isn't it cuuuute? It's something you can share. A reason to go for walks together and talk like you used to do. You can take it to obedience classes together and work on training it together at home. Oh, it'll be just the thing you need to save your relationship. Right?

Wrong again.

It isn't long before you and the puppy are fast becoming best pals on your walks whilst your partner is somewhere - anywhere - else. Ditto with the obedience classes.

Well, maybe a puppy just wasn't the right sort of commitment. So you decide to have a child together. Or one of you sabotages the birth control and decides for both of you. In either case, you end up with this little bundle of responsibility - a responsibility that you have dumped on this child: That is, to save your relationship. What a terrible thing to do to an innocent child who did not ask to be here and who isn't going to enjoy being held hostage in the uncomfortable, unhappy, and possibly quite toxic environment that you call "home".

You sit in painful silence at the dinner table every night. Your children are chattering away to each other or to you and your partner so what a relief, you can talk to them, but you do not have to talk to each other. Because you haven't a clue what to say.

Perhaps you just need more time together. You sign up for some dance lessons but one or the other of you ends up with a reason (i.e. excuse) why you can't go, to the point that you just quit bothering altogether. Or you try to organise card-playing or film-watching or having friends in for dinner but still the relationship is in trouble.

In fact, after all this time, it's in worse trouble than ever. And the puppy is neglected or you have to pay the children to take it for a walk and they squawk about it because they'd rather be attached to their electronic devices. And your children are being neglected because you're so busy distracting yourself from your miserable relationship, or you're stewing about it or resenting the 'save your relationship" child for not having fulfilled your reason for his/her existence.

Now you just have a houseful of misery and unhappiness. You plaster a smile on your face and so does everyone else but you go to your corners and live your own lives and nobody really wants to be around anyone else because it all feels so bloody prickly and uncomfortable and you'd all rather just go and find your own little bit of relief or comfort somewhere else - in a book, in a bottle, in the mall, in a pill, in an affair.

You can't figure out how it's possible that you could have done so much, and tried so hard to save that relationship and it's still failing. But the thing is, you didn't try the one thing that would save it. You didn't actually address the reason for all those symptoms you were covering up. Maybe you did do that now and then. Maybe you tried but couldn't quite get there. Perhaps it was just too scary, too uncomfortable to really look at what was wrong.

Scary or ugly or not, the only way to save a relationship is to save the relationship. Full stop. You have to be brave, rip off the bandaid and look at what's festering underneath. It's not for the faint-hearted. It's miserable painful dirty work but it's the only thing that will put it right.

It's true that 'putting it right' might mean it has to end, but if it does, that's because it's what is necessary. But you can't put it right till you know what's wrong.