Ask Elizabeth: Time for Counseling?

Elizabeth Brennan

My partner and I have been together for 10 years. Just recently, we suffered a set back and my partner said he was ready to leave! His reasons are really confusing and now he wants us to go into couples counselling to see if there is a way we can mend our relationship.

I am very much the same person I was when we first met, though I put a lot of effort into my job. As I work in a field where I am always upfront and honest to people, it has actually caused conflict with a close group of our friends. A few areas that have been raised include: insecurity, jealousy, controlling of finances, need for independence and a lot of personal issues that have not been dealt with. I am not sure if counselling is the right decision as this could either break our relationship of fix it for the better!


Yes …I can imagine the amount of confusion you may be experiencing. You believe that you are the same person you were ten years ago and, therefore, cannot understand what has happened that brought about your partner’s seeming dissatisfaction. I suspect that he, also, is going through a degree of confusion as well?

In a previous response, I made reference to the undeniable fact that relationships go through various stages. This is inevitable because we do actually change, we do grow. You are evidently quite committed to your work and I would presume, very good at it. Would you say you are the same person at work as you were when you started? As we grow, whether in our area of work, our other interests, and as an individual; our expectations and needs change and grow as well.

A research project was directed by David P. McWhirter, MD from the University of California and was conducted with gay male couples who ranged in age from 20 to 69 years of age and the mean time in a relationship was 8.7 years. As a result of the project, McWhirter identified six individual stages in relationship:

  1. Stage One: Blending. In this stage, it is the similarities between a couple that bind them whilst differences are mutually, oft times unconsciously, overlooked. An important stage to assist the partners to develop equality.
  2. Stage Two: Nesting. Often men, in the first few years of a relationship, pay little heed to their shared physical space. This stage gives birth to a need to decorate a new home, perhaps re-arranging an old one. Couple’s differences start to slowly emerge and a recognition of the complementarities that enhance compatibility.
  3. Stage Three: Maintaining. Individualisation begins, a recognition that a relationship is comprised of three ‘persons’: You, Me and We.
  4. Stage Four: Collaborating. The energy released when each partner willingly enters this new stage leads to mutual as well as individual productivity of a visible nature which can include financial dealings, estate building. This increased individualisation can progress to the establishment of independence, sustained by the steady, dependable availability of a partner for support, guidance and affirmation.
  5. Stage Five: Trust. Trust is not born overnight; it develops gradually and continues to do so in a committed relationship – there is no top level – the growth is unending. Stage Five includes a reciprocal lack of possessiveness.
  6. Stage Six: Repartnering. Most men’s goals include financial security, business, professional and academic success. When a couple works steadily through the necessary stages of a relationship, they usually delight in the milestone they have reached and often enter into some ritual to celebrate this achievement.

I would have loved more space to flesh out these six stages more deeply. Of course, one of the key requirements needed to embrace and work through these stages is good communication.

I must admit, like you, I am also a bit confused. You remark that you are not sure if ‘counselling is the right decision as this could either break (your) relationship or fix it for the better.’ Does your perplexity arise from an uncertainty on your part as to whether you want to proceed in this relationship? A tough question, but, I would suggest one that needs to be answered. Perhaps, in actuality, counselling – or attendance in a Relationship Building course – may be what you do need?

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