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The 3 Cs of relationship breakdown - can marriage therapy help?

Worrying physical symptoms might send you to a GP - yet do you pay attention to the health of your relationship?

Relation-ships are a bit like other ships, aren't they?

One minute you're sailing on the high seas, in awe at the beauty and wonder of it all. And then, the winds change - and you begin to question whether the 'ship you're in was really made to weather all these storms.

Perhaps you boarded the wrong one?

You probably started off in a blissful love bubble. Maybe it was months ago - maybe it was half a century ago, but the reality of human relationships is that difficulty inevitably arises.

So the big question of relationship conflict is - are these storms even worth weathering in this ship you're in?

If you're in the middle of a marriage storm like this, these words might hit a vulnerable nerve for you. Marriage and relationship conflict can be a major source of distress in your life. Feeling like you're on divorce's doorstep can be an all-consuming burden - making you question much of your current existence.

*Whispers* Is it even worth it?

Feeling like you're in an emotional whirlpool that you can't escape from never feels like a great place to make important life decisions.

So an honest moment between you and I - is it worth investing in relationship counselling if you're not sure about the future?

To answer? First it's worth delving into some of the most common sources of relationship difficulty (the three C's!) to shed light on things.

And then, if you've never been to a psychologist or therapist, we'll break down how exactly marriage counselling can help you.

The three Cs

Perhaps if something is going wrong with your household appliance, you might be a little more pragmatic in sitting down to figure out where the creaks are coming from.

Yet somehow when emotions, relationships, and stress are involved, some of the problem-solving thinking goes out the window. We are instead left feeling overwhelmed with hurt, and blame.

Let's look at some of the biggest culprits when it comes to springing leaks in those 'ships.


Obvious? Yes, I hear you say!

Yet what's really going on beneath the conflict? No doubt, it could be an endless combination of past hurt and trauma on the part of both parties.

But what we're really talking about here affects us at a far more instinctive level - our nervous system, and the primitive parts of our brain.

The thing is, when we feel a lack of safety in our bodies, it's really common for us to shut the most evolved parts of our brains down.

What exactly does that mean?

It doesn't necessarily look the same for every person: for one person it could be completely shutting down and withdrawing. For someone else, it could look like angry outbursts, and for another, it could be bottling it all up and just 'agreeing'

Communication breakdown

If you managed to float above the room to observe an interaction between yourself and your other half - how's the feeling in the room? Does it really feel like both people are being remotely listened to? Does each person feel truly seen or heard?

Feeling heard is a pretty fundamental human need.

Yet if you grew up in an environment where you were never listened to - or have a personality that naturally withdraws from communicating assertively, then it can be tricky to tune into that sense. And even trickier to advocate for yourself

When communication is reduced to snarky exchanges and assumptions, things can very easily descend into both parties feeling like there's so much "loudness" - yet so little listening.

So much invisibility of each person's needs and inner thoughts.

One of the most ironic parts? Usually positive thoughts towards partners are also swallowed up in this.


Finally, a symptom that can easily go unnoticed is one that lurks below the surface in our attitudes towards partners, yet can hugely affect the relationship.

It involves displaying disdain, superiority and disrespect through sarcasm, mockery, or belittling remarks - eroding the emotional connection and communication within the relationship.

Contempt toward a partner has been extensively researched by psychologist John Gottman, and has been identified as so destructive that it actually predicts marriage failure.

Couples plagued by contempt are more likely to face escalating conflicts and emotional disengagement, leading to dissatisfaction or divorce.

Will marriage therapy fix things?

What do marriage therapy success rates tell us about how much it "works"?

Each couple needs an incredibly personalised approach.

One rather important statistic is that on average, couples wait (suffer) through 6 years of discontent before seeking help.

Realistically, if you know conflict, communication breakdown, and contempt are part of your marriage, will accessing professional help even have a chance at 'fixing' these?

The fundamental question of whether you should stay together will always be up to you.

Yet working on psychological wellbeing - either within yourself, or within your relationship, is never the wrong choice.

A helping hand with the three C's:

Calming the conflict

When partners feel unsafe in expressing their emotions or opinions during conflicts, it hinders open communication and vulnerability.

Yet intimate relationships have the potential to be a safe escape from the harsh world around us.

Prioritising relational safety by fostering an environment of empathy, active listening, and non-judgmental acceptance can transform conflicts into opportunities for growth and understanding.

Opening the lines of communication

Even though it took a fairly long time for humans to evolve the ability to communicate (and set us apart from other animals!), it's definitely something we take for granted.

Especially the ability to communicate well.

Yet there are specific and learnable skills that can be relationship-changing for you.

When partners actively listen to one another's concerns, emotions, and perspectives, it fosters a sense of validation and understanding. This open and attentive communication can create a safe and supportive space for addressing conflicts, resolving issues, and repairing the bond between you.

Clearing out contempt

To save a marriage? It is crucial to replace contempt with empathy, respect, and positive communication, fostering appreciation and active listening to rebuild trust and emotional intimacy.

Yet as always, help it at hand.

If you've resonated with some of the points above, it can feel like a harsh reality check to identify these symptoms in your marriage.

In the journey of saving a marriage and fostering a deeper emotional connection, seeking professional support can make a significant difference.

If you find that conflicts, communication breakdowns, or contempt have become persistent challenges, know that you don't have to navigate these waters alone.



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