Most couples in crisis have a backlog of grief. This grief can be from many years of arguments and misunderstandings, childhood trauma, financial problems, ill-health, long-standing problems with kids, death of parents/siblings/friends. Above all, troubled couples's biggest loss is romantic love: that early, exciting, attachment which was filled with sex, admiration, humor and hope. Nothing can bring us down when we're newly in love - it's all lightness, sweetness, endearing words. We can never get enough of gazing at the beloved and being admired adoringly in return. We can't keep our hands off the loved one.
Sadly, this heightened, ecstatic state commonly lasts only for a year. Then relational life becomes about resolving differences, finding compromises and getting down to the business of living day-to-day with this often annoying person! Flashes of the early romance re-surface sometimes and can be a lasting basis for an affectionate, trusting relationship. The early love can be the background for resilience in the years ahead.
But if there's lots of arguing, and unresolved conflicts, partners can grow distant from each other and deep down sadness and hopelessness develops. The core of this sadness is grief - a massive disappointment that the dream went sour. That lightness of being is now dark and heavy. In fact, the early meaning of grief was from the old French, "burden"; now love becomes a dead- weight you carry around like an eternal curse. At this point, we don't even WANT to fix things; we're exhausted from fighting and hurting.
We find that speaking out loud about this grief is super important to the process of couples therapy. We've discovered that it's important to acknowledge all the struggles and losses the couple has endured, from the lesser to the greater. When we begin to mourn the losses and reflect on crushed hope, only then can we begin to imagine new possibilities.