Things aren't going well between you. So, what's the answer? Have you just outgrown each other? Do you both need to act more mature and learn how to compromise? Or do you need professional help to put things right?
Difficulties in a first relationship: Very frequently, when people are in a first relationship they believe it will go on forever. Often it feels very special and magical. So, even if you know that - statistically - first-love is unlikely to last, it can be a terrible blow when it doesn't. However, it's important to remember that if your first love ends, you can still treasure its memory for the rest of your life. Its experience will also help you move on and find something even better in the future.
In love or just loving: Maybe your problems are about the intensity of the relationship. The kind of change that happens after you've been in a relationship for a while is natural. But it can worry people. You may feel your relationship is no good just because you no longer get breathless at the very thought of your boy or girlfriend. But what you have to remember is that the first stages of being 'in love' are so intense that it's difficult to get on with real life at the same time! After a while, you're bound to want to concentrate on your job or to see your friends more. This doesn't mean that your relationship is passed its sell-by date unless there are other things wrong with it too.
First baby: Research shows that the most dangerous time for a relationship is around the time of a first baby. And that even if the relationship doesn't end for another 20 years, its troubles can usually be traced back to the months surrounding the first child's birth. This makes bleak reading, doesn't it? But of course loads of young parents stay happy and enjoy their babies. However, it's worth realizing that this is a difficult time and seeking some help from a counselor, GP or health visitor before your problems get out of hand.
Are you sure this isn't about sex? If what's going wrong is about sex, one of you finds it hurts, one wants it more than the other or one can't have an orgasm you may want to consider sex therapy.
Common sense tips
If your relationship is in trouble, there are a few things you can try before going the whole hog and getting a counsellor:
- Never have an important discussion or row after 9pm. The chances are that you'll be tired or boozed, or both - you'll solve your differences much better in the morning.
- If the guy in the relationship feels he hates to open up emotionally, or isn't good at talking, or feels he gets interrupted all the time, or shouted down, then it's worth working to the 10-minute rule. This means that you sit down together to discuss things calmly and you each have ten minutes of uninterrupted talking time to put your case. Neither or you must interrupt or swear, or shout, or flounce out. You just talk when it's your turn, and listen when it's not. If you need another 10 minutes each, then have it. But agree before you start that you won't let this discussion go on all night. Guys in particular hate the idea of an open-ended row that goes on and on. So agree that after, say, half an hour, you'll go and get a pizza or something.
- Try to be pleasant and respectful to each other even if things aren't going great. A smile and a thank you when appropriate keeps things civilized.
When do you definitely need therapy?
Most therapists will tell you that couples tend to come for therapy as a last resort. And often they leave it so long before coming that at least one of the partners is past caring. So, do seriously consider therapy in time to do some good, especially if:
- One of you is very insecure, clingy or jealous and this is ruining the relationship;
- You're both moody with each other most of the time;
- One or both of you can't discuss feelings with the other;
- Discussions always turn into rows;
- One or other of you is unhappy much of the time;
- You've stopped having sex.
Is this going to cost a lot?
Free: Youth Access is an umbrella organisation for counselling centres all over the UK, and should be able to tell you if there is any free relationship counselling in your area. It's always worth considering Brook as well, because although most of their work is about contraception and sex problems, they can sometimes help with relationship issues too, and this help is free.
Low-cost therapy: Relate, who are the main relationship agency, have a sliding scale of charges according to a client's means usually between £5 and £40. And nowadays, Relate offer online, email or telephone counseling as well as the more traditional face-to-face variety.
Private therapy: Obviously, if you go to a private therapist, you have a lot more choice of who you see and when. But you're probably talking about shelling out at least £40 per hour and maybe a great deal more than that. You should also be wary about going to a general sort of counsellor. You might strike lucky and get someone brilliant even if he or she doesn't have special relationships qualifications. But your best bet is to go to someone who is properly trained and accredited with the College for Sexualand Relationship Therapy (COSRT)
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