After years together, many couples find the ‘couple fit’ – the thing that makes the relationship work for both partners – gets lost along the way. Sometimes what’s needed is a new reason to be together. Couple therapy can help find this.
Before we come to how couples might do this, let’s go back to the start. What brings two people together? The first stages are obvious to all – someone who catches their eye, some kind of magnetic attraction, or more recently a compelling profile on a dating app which seems to tick all the right boxes.
As dating continues however, something deeper is needed which makes someone feel like they’re ‘the one’, that this has long term potential. This might be about contrasting but complimentary personalities, for example one who’s organised and steady, the other providing the creativity and excitement. Sometimes it can be about shared life experiences in the past or more recently – for example similar experiences in childhood or later – such as loss of a loved one, one or both parents who weren’t there for them for whatever reason, or even positive experiences of loving families.
These things are about what brings people together, but what about what keeps them together? The term ‘couple fit’ is essentially what makes a relationship work over months and years. This is often something that couples don’t explicitly think about or talk about – their relationship just evolves that way. Let’s take a fictional example – Jack and Claire. Jack likes to be a provider. He likes to be selfless, he finds it hard to think about his own needs and instead focuses on looking after Claire. This might be because Jack had to look after his mum in his teens when dad left.
Claire quite likes being looked after, and is grateful and appreciative early on in the relationship. She can find it hard to feel confident and secure in herself at times. Meanwhile Jack needs to be needed, and Claire meets this need.
Jack works hard to provide, for Claire, himself and a future family, he goes for every promotion available, starts working long hours. Claire deprioritises her career – she’s aware she’s going to stop work when kids come along.
As time goes on, Jack has other demands on him alongside Claire – work, a brother who’s down on his luck, his mum who’s in poor health. Claire is the one person he can say no to. However he’s now earning plenty of money for the family, and Claire’s got used to the lifestyle and might no longer be grateful. Quite the opposite – she’s starting to resent her role. The ‘couple fit’ doesn’t work any more.
As is often the case with couples, none of this was really planned or discussed together – it just evolved, and at first it suited them both, but then it dawns on Claire one day. She’s not happy. This isn’t what she wanted. Both feel burdened by individual responsibilities. There’s a distance between them. They seldom have sex any more.
At this point with couples like this, sometimes one of them has an affair. Some think of divorce. Others try couple therapy (and plenty try couple therapy after an affair or after an exploration of divorce). They arrived knowing that they’ve lost their way. An instinct is often to want to ‘go back’ to how things were. But what can sometimes be more helpful is to explore new reasons to be together, a new ‘contract’ between them with roles which are a little more interchangeable and flexible, be that in relation to parenting or work.
There isn’t a template for this – every couple is unique, and the key to finding a new couple fit is first to have better conversations about unmet needs. Hopefully Jack, rather than doing what he instinctively does which is to look after everyone else, can start to get in touch with what he really wants. Claire can start to find things in herself that she wants for herself rather than be trapped in what sometimes feels like a rather passive position. Together they can start to think about what could change to allow them both to feel fulfilled and to think together as a couple, and find a new couple fit.