A relationship begins naturally with love and excitement. A few years later, the happy couple get married. Both sides want the marriage to last. After a while, the couple have children. Now they're a family, and the desire to preserve the union becomes stronger than ever.
Once children are involved, marriage isn't just about maintaining a romantic relationship but keeping a family together. For many couples, this is a deeply held principle. However, although this feels like a personal choice, there are cultural and social pressures involved. Society frowns on the break-up of families, and keeping a marriage going can feel like a social responsibility. These cultural values can override personal values. The marriage takes precedence and individual happiness and fulfilment is sidelined. This change in somebody's value system only becomes obvious when a marriage starts to break down.
Partners who feel unhappy in a marriage may begin to question their relationship. However, this questioning happens within the context of their responsibility to the family; they're not simply evaluating the relationship with reference to their own needs, as they once might have done. Many people feel selfish and guilty for wanting a more fulfilling life. Faced with this situation, most couples will try to save their marriage. Many seek professional support and go to marital therapy. In my experience as a therapist, many couples get through these crisis periods in their marriages. Success depends on both sides being brave enough to engage in emotional and behavioural change, and making the effort to create a happy and meaningful life for both themselves and their family.
Sometimes, however, irreconcilable differences between couples emerge during therapy. Their marital problems usually stem from having profoundly different outlooks on life, and from having ignored these differences. Of, course, everybody develops over time. We don't remain the same all our lives. But some of our values are the building blocks that make us unique, and, in an unconscious but profound way, preserving these values is the purpose of our lives. Sometimes, it's only through having marital therapy that couples identify their most deeply held principles and recognise their true significance. Marriages in which two people's values aren't aligned, especially if the couple have children, will always reach a crisis point. Trying to preserve an unhappy marriage to protect one's children doesn't help anyone. In order to make the best decision for all family members, we would always recommend consulting a marital or family therapist.