If Leonardo DiCaprio hadn’t slipped under the icy waters of the Atlantic after Titanic sunk, there’s a good chance he and Kate Winslet would have ended up on Revolutionary Road. The film’s deeply unhappy couple bogged down in trench warfare shows what can happen when young love ages badly.
Carolyn Humphreys specializes in helping couples become king of the world once more. The psychologist with almost 30 years experience in reviving dying relationships says it usually comes down to broken communications.
“They feel they don’t have any intimacy anymore,” the Halifax-based psychologist says. “People start off with the best of intentions and feel very safe and trusting with their partner, but it erodes over time.”
The couple settles into a “relationship dance” where one attacks and the other withdraws, or both attack.
Understanding falters and unexpressed emotions fester.
Humphries says it doesn’t matter whether it’s about money, sex or parenting: The pattern is the same.
Identifying this framework of fighting allows couples to gain perspective on themselves. When courageous couples get down to the root of conflict and open up once more, healing can bloom.
“The therapist will help each person talk about what those feelings are below the surface,” Humphreys says. The other partner has a chance to listen without needing to react. This allows them to actually take in the fears of their partner. “They might say, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize when you’re angry, what you’re really saying is that you’re wondering if I’m going to leave you.’ It opens up a whole other level of knowing each other.”
She has seen many couples in deep crisis and says sometimes what’s broken can’t be fixed.
“There are times when you really see the two people are hurting each other so much, and there’s been so much hurt, that there’s not really much we can offer,” Humphreys says. “Sometimes couples do need to say that this isn’t going to work.”
Despite that, she remains optimistic we can find our inner Jack and Rose.
“If they still love their partner and still want the relationship to work and are willing to look at themselves and not just blame each other, I’ve seen couples make huge changes,” Humphreys smiles. That, she says, leads to happier lives, renewed trust — and better sex.