“I don’t know if I want to be married.”
“We don’t have anything in common.”
These statements are all too common from one half of the couple in a relationship.
Although the couples I work with are diverse and individualistic in their own right, the process in which couples become ‘uncoupled’ bares similarities.
How does the uncoupling begin?
Much like there is a process that occurs when two individuals become a couple, there is a process that occurs when couples start to uncouple. In the past, they might have worked together and had shared activities and responsibilities. Their relationship went beyond just the ‘business’ part of a marriage. Yet something occurs when one person becomes unhappy. They start to distance themselves from their partner in ways that are subtle at first, but become much more obvious as time moves on.
When couples begin to uncouple, they begin to live independent lives – parallel lives. They spend less energy and time focusing on rebuilding or maintaining the relationship and more time on outside, singular interests. Over a period of months (or even years), the tide changes – typically only with one person – much like a ‘slow burn’ in relationships. Several things occur right below the surface – often on a subconscious level. Someone might say, ‘We are drifting apart. I am really not sure what is going on. I just can’t put my finger on it. But I have less interest in my spouse and commitment to the marriage, and more thoughts about life without him, but also a willingness to try and put more effort into the marriage.’ At this time, many are unsure about what to do about the marriage or relationship.
As the uncoupling continues, one person in the relationship starts to experience inner angst and uncertainty about the future with their partner – even though, at one point, this seemed unimaginable. Their future together was not questionable. Now, the person who is questioning the marriage or relationship is not sure how or when their feelings changed – they just know that they have. The person attempts to make sense out of their relationship or marriage, which has taken an unfamiliar direction. They are unaware of how they were becoming “uncoupled”, how they got here, what to do, or how their relationship has unraveled. They seek answers, direction, insight, and (hopefully) clarity. Trying to get back the feelings they once felt so easily and had such a natural affinity for feels arduous, uncomfortable, and, for some, painstakingly “hard”.
In her book titled Uncoupling, Diane Vaughan states that the uncoupling process starts with a secret. The person who is unhappy is deemed the “initiator” – the holder of the secret. Secrets create a power difference, as the person who has the secret holds this information from the partner. They are making the unilateral decision whether or not to share their secret, their feelings, or the ambivalence they are experiencing with the relationship or marriage. They are keeping their partner in the dark. Initially, complaints by the initiator may be looked upon by the partner as small or trivial; however, the initiator interprets these complaints as negative flaws. Even with this, the initiator continues to explore their feelings in an attempt to understand what went wrong and why they feel the way they do.
When the initiator starts to express their discontent, they often do so by focusing on the failings or shortcoming of the other person. They may attempt to address this issue with their partner, but words are hard to express. Their words turn into critical behaviors. Gone are the days of positive affirmations. The initiator soon finds fault with their partner, only focusing on the negative and excluding the positive.
What is the ‘punchline of the uncoupling process?
It varies for each couple and depends on their history, their commitment level, and if they are willing to be honest with their partner about their feelings.
Uncoupling at this time can be looked at as a bridge – a bridge that divides the two sides, where the marriage is no longer salvageable or a bridge that connects the two sides – where both people make strong attempts to stay together!
Originally posted on Iris.xyz