Time poor

Time-poor couple, first child born premature, and on the brink of divorce

Jeremy and Barbara had a big commitment to repair after four terrible years following their first-born son’s very premature birth. They had been in couple’s therapy for a year in Brisbane. They didn’t make the time to reach to the bottom of their negative interaction cycle. It had nearly destroyed their marriage. We unpacked and transformed the negative cycle stage by stage as it reappeared during a week-long intensive. They returned to a positive and self-regenerating cycle with renewed intimacy and hope. On two years follow up they were trying for their second child.

Jeremy is a hydro engineer who can be called out at short notice and work around the clock, far from home. Barbara, a choreographer, manages a performing arts business in Queensland. They are very different people with very different family and socio-economic backgrounds.

They were in a committed relationship for seven years but over the last two had not had any meaningful intimacy. Worse, mutual resentment about the lack of cuddles and sex stirred up ugly fights and denigrating comments with a regularity that was sickening them. They had had a fantastic sex life and they wanted it back. They described ‘fantastic’ as feeling themselves and the other totally present and alive in the moment with a deep sense of gratitude in the afterglow. That was a distant memory. They were now exhausted and at the end of their emotional resources.

They had been in couple’s therapy for a year with an excellent therapist. However, a significant shift in the core issue had not occurred. There never seemed enough time to get to the bottom of the issues and Jeremy’s work often broke the rhythm.

Their troubles had begun after the premature birth of a first child. Born at 24 weeks Tim was on the edge of life and death for many months. The workload had been all consuming for both and their extended family. Jeremy and Barbara both suffered post-natal depression. Touch and sex had just dried up. All their conversations were about managing day to day challenges.

They considered giving up on the relationship altogether and decided to give it one last shot with a holiday centred around a couple’s retreat (not the movie). They discovered an old web page of mine describing the couple’s retreat I had thought about running from my home. I had given up on the idea and archived the page until these guys dug it out and asked if they could come to one.

The first days were confronting for both, having to work through as if from scratch, how to connect again. On the third day Jeremy looked different. He said his heart had opened again to the relationship. They were looking at each other softly, with fondness and admiration.

However, by the beginning of the fourth day of the intensive Jeremy was convinced he had wasted their time and money. He was back in the pits.

They had had a terrible night after the three previous mornings of challenging couple therapy. He couldn’t imagine another day without sex and feeling that he didn’t matter to her. She couldn’t imagine another minute without tender touch and always feeling his work came first. It had blown up after a fight about money. It was the old trigger for an old power struggle that hadn’t shifted in their previous therapy back home.

I was dismayed and my heart sunk with them but then I remembered the third day of retreats was often the worst. Remembering that I knew that as bad as it felt for them, I was sure they were going to make it – this was the storm that they had not had the time to unfold with awareness.

I helped them to soften the core issues feeding it, to get beneath the compelling, reactive emotions that drove it and into the calm after it passed. There is where the true connection and the deep longing they each had for the other resided. They mattered to one another at the core. There they had each other’s back. They connected at that level.

The transformation by the end of that fourth day was astounding. They were unblocked. They had reached a turning point where Jeremy asked that Barbara look at him, appreciate all that he does and let him know that he matters rather than finding fault with him. Barbara asked that he hold her when she panics in the same way he holds his friends and tell her ‘We can get through this together’ rather than do what he usually did – turn his back and walk away.

Both now found those easy things to promise as the requests had become disentangled from the accumulated debris of past disappointments.

They came in on day five looking like a young couple. They had been to the pits and had come back up to where they were before Tim was born. With that renewed confidence we spent the final day creatively working through all the issues and coming up with clear agreements. We finished with relapse prevention work.

We did a few skype follow ups. Two years later those changes have held good, and they were ready to try for number two child.