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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

NYC Psychotherapy Blog: Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"? Ask Yourself, "What's Changed?"

Before you consider "starting over" in a troubled relationship, it's a good idea to ask yourself, "What changed?," especially if, as a couple, you haven't reflected on what needs to change and how the two of you are going to bring about that change (see my article: Love: Is It Really Better the Second Time Around?)

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"?  Ask Yourself: "What's Changed?"

Many couples, who have having problems in their relationship, decide that telling themselves they're "starting over" means they've changed their problems.

But without introspection by each individual, an understanding of what went wrong in the past, and a plan to make changes, in most cases, the same problems continue--no matter how many times these couples vow to "start over."

Some couples might say that they've talked about their problems and they've decided not to repeat the same mistakes.  But with complex relationship problems, if you don't understand the underlying issues at the root of these problems, a simple declaration to not repeat your mistakes won't resolve the problems.

Let's look at a fictionalized scenario that illustrates these issues:

Jane and Bob
Bob and Jane were dating for two years when they moved in together.  Both of them were divorced and had not dated in a long time before they met each other.

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"?  Ask Yourself: "What's Changed?"

Initially, things were going well and they were enjoying their time together, but several months later, Jane discovered that Bob secretly engaged in online gambling.

One night, she woke up in the early hours of the morning to find Bob at their computer in the living room playing poker online.

When he heard Jane come into the room, Bob tried to hide what he was doing by switching to another website, but Jane had already seen what he was doing and she confronted him (see my article: Are Toxic Secrets Ruining Your Relationship?)

They stayed up all the night to talk about Bob's gambling.  At first, he told Jane that this was the first time that he had ever gone onto this gambling site.  But when Jane looked at the browser history, she saw that he was regularly on various gambling sites.

At that point, Bob had to admit that he would frequently gamble online, and he had been gambling online for several years, but he didn't want Jane to know about it because he felt ashamed about it.

Although Jane felt compassion for Bob, she was also shocked and angry that Bob hid his problem from her.

Over the next few days, as Jane and Bob continued to discuss his gambling, Jane found out that Bob had withdrew a considerable amount of money from their joint checking account.

When Jane confronted Bob about this, he told her that he had planned to replace the money before Jane found out about it, but he was having a "bad streak of luck."  He admitted that he was also gambling on sports and he had lost a lot of money.

By now, Jane was very upset.  She was beginning to realize that Bob's gambling problem was a lot worse than she had originally suspected.

After thinking it over for a few days, Jane told Bob that she couldn't live with a gambler, especially since her father gambled away her family's savings.  Then, she asked Bob to move out.

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over?" Ask Yourself: "What's Changed?"

Bob pleaded with Jane to give him a chance to overcome his gambling problem.  He knew he would be miserable without Jane and he felt deep remorse for putting their relationship in jeopardy.

Jane wasn't sure what to do at that point, so she asked Bob to move out for a few weeks so she could think about what she wanted to do.

During the weeks that Bob and Jane were apart, they agreed to no contact.  They each missed each other a lot, and Jane wondered if she had made a mistake by asking Bob to move out.

After their separation period was over, they agreed to talk.  Bob told Jane that he wanted more than anything for them to get back together.  He asked her if she would consider "starting over" and he promised he would never gamble again.

Jane told Bob that their weeks apart had been very hard for her, and she missed him a lot.  She made Bob promise that he would never gamble again and, when he did, she agreed that they should "start over."

They both agreed that they wouldn't discuss his gambling or this painful period in their lives again, and they would resume their relationship "as if nothing had ever happened."  They both wanted to "put it behind" them (see my article: Overcoming Your Emotional Blind Spots)

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"?  Ask Yourself, "What's Changed?"

Initially, they were so glad to be back together again that they went on a romantic vacation together to rekindle their relationship.  They had a wonderful time, and when they got back, they were more resolved than ever to be together.

But a month or so later, Jane couldn't help wondering if Bob was secretly gambling again.  She wanted to trust him, but she began to have doubts.

Whenever she began to have doubts, Jane tried to put these doubts out of her mind, but they kept coming back.

Then, one day, when Bob was out, Jane decided on a whim to look at the browser history, which had been cleared of the previous history, and she saw that Bob had resumed gambling again.  She felt completely betrayed.

When Bob got home, he discovered that Jane had packed his things and put everything by the door.  He realized immediately that Jane had discovered that he started gambling again.

He pleaded with Jane to give him another chance, but she was adamant that he needed to move out.  She didn't want to live her mother's life with a gambler.

A few weeks later, Bob began therapy with a therapist who specialized in addictions.

Over time, he learned about the emotional triggers that triggered his compulsive gambling.  His therapist told him that, in addition to attending therapy, he needed to attend a 12 Step program for gamblers, Gamblers Anonymous and also get a sponsor in that program.

Bob attempted to bargain with his therapist, telling the therapist that he thought he could cut back on his gambling so that it would be less of a problem--rather than abstaining completely from gambling (see my article: Starting Therapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious and Ambivalent).

But his therapist told Bob that he had a serious problem and explained that if Bob gave into his compulsion to gambling, even if it was less frequently than before, he would be reinforcing this habit and wouldn't stop.  He also explained the brain chemistry involved with gambling and other addictions.

Bob decided to leave therapy (see my article: When Clients Leave Therapy Prematurely).

He felt he could handle his problems on his own, so he made a promise to himself that he would only gamble once a week and he would set a limit on how much money he would allow himself to lose

For the first month, this appeared to work for Bob and he was proud of himself.  He kept to his promise to himself to only gamble once a week and to stay within certain monetary limits.

Bob felt so good about what he saw as progress that he told himself that he was able to control himself and he could gamble twice a week and increase the limit of what he allowed himself to lose.

As time went on, Bob felt bored and he kept bargaining with himself and this resulted in his gambling more often and losing much more money than he had ever lost before (see my article: Overcoming Addiction: Boredom as a Relapse Trigger).

Before he realized it, Bob had gambled away much of his savings and he was tempted to borrow money from his parents.  But at that point, Bob stopped himself.  He knew that he had sunk to a new low and his denial about his problem was only making it worse.

Bob went back to therapy and made a commitment to remain.  He also began attending Gamblers Anonymous (G.A.) and he got a sponsor that he called several times a week, especially when he felt a urge to gamble.

A year later, Bob celebrated his one year anniversary of abstaining from gambling.  He knew his triggers, and he knew he needed to talk about his habit in his individual psychotherapy sessions and in G.A. groups and with his sponsor.  He also knew that he needed to be aware of not becoming complacent.

Throughout this time, Bob continued to miss Jane.  He had thought about calling her many times, but he was afraid that she would hang up on him.

After celebrating his one year anniversary, Bob called Jane and hoped for the best.  He had already discussed this with his therapist and his sponsor, so he was prepared if she rejected him.  But, to his surprise, she sounded glad to hear from him, and they decided to meet for coffee.

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"? Ask Yourself: "What's Changed?"

Coffee led to dinner.  Jane was happy to hear that Bob hadn't gambled in a year.  She sensed his sincerity and commitment to his recovery. He also offered to have her come to a therapy session with his therapist.

After that, they decided to go to couples counseling (see my article: Starting Couples Counseling).

They both knew that simply saying that they would "start over" wasn't the answer, and they needed help from a licensed mental health professional if they were going to get back together again.

A couple's decision to "start over" is usually well intentioned.  But if the couple doesn't address the issues in a meaningful way and with professional help, especially if they have serious problems, it's usually a misguided strategy.

Without realizing it, many couples tell themselves that they will "start over" as a form of denial--a way to avoid dealing with their problems on a deeper level.

In most cases where there are serous problems, it's magical thinking to think that their problems will automatically vanish because they've decided to "put it behind" them.

Many relationships that could be salvaged with professional help end permanently after many efforts to "start over" don't work.

Getting Help in Therapy
While it might be tempting to put aside problems by vowing to "start over," this is usually a doomed strategy.

Acknowledging and understanding the problems on a superficial level is only the first step.

Rooting out the underlying, unconscious issues requires the skill of a licensed mental health professional.

If you and your significant other have been struggling with relationship problems and "starting over" hasn't worked for you, you could benefit by seeking help from a licensed psychotherapist.

It could make the difference between salvaging your relationship or ending it.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.