Deciding whether to commit, or to quit: is my relationship doomed?
When relationships start to unravel, couples often get caught up in doubt. Thoughts such as “Is it worth it?”, “Will things ever change?”, and “Am I silly for thinking things will ever work?” are quick to come to mind, and the mental dilemma of whether to commit to making it work or tossing in the towel begins.
There are a million different “tips” and “tricks” out there that “happy couples use”, that are plastered over every girl-oriented magazine, but what is worth trying? Do these gimmicks really work, and is there a formula that all happy couples use?
First and foremost, there is no set formula that is a sure-fire guide to relationship bliss. Nor are there “happy couples”. There are, however, healthy couples. Healthy couples experience happiness, love, intimacy, sacrifice, arguments, fights, and challenges. Being a healthy relationship is about over-coming challenges as a team, working hard towards your shared goals, and growing from your experiences together. So take that image of the perfectly in-shape couple, blissfully strolling down the beach with giant, madly-in-love smiles plastered on their faces, and toss it in the trash.
Hidden in many of the articles promising the “secrets” of “happy couples” are elements of what are called, “the 7 C’s”. The 7 C’s are areas of assessment in relationships that are considered pre-requisites for long-term intimacy (Birchler, Fals-Stewart, O’Farrell, 2008). Regardless of what trick or tip you use, the focus is always on one or more of the 7 C’s. Working on these seven areas will impact you and your partner’s feelings of satisfaction in the relationship, while also providing a sturdy foundation for maintaining the relationship long-term. The 7 C’s are (Birchler et al., 2008):
Character Features. Character features include personality, sense of humor, outlook on life, trustworthiness, etc.
Cultural and Ethic Factors. In addition to race, ethnicity, and culture, these can include gender roles, money management, religious differences, and differences in disciplining children.
Contract. Contract refers to what each partner’s expectations and wants are in the relationship.
Commitment. Commitment includes a stable and satisfying investment in the relationship.
Caring. Caring is defined as support, understanding, and validation of each partner. Showing appreciation towards each other also constitutes as caring.
Communication. This is probably one of the most important, or essential, C’s, with the stipulation that the communication must be effective.
Conflict Resolution. Conflict resolution addresses a couples ability to work together to overcome challenges.
When couples find themselves wondering if they should continue working to rebuild their current relationship or move in a different direction, addressing these seven areas can provide great insight. However, the 7 C’s should not be looked at as a check-list, but more as a way to determine what areas of your relationship need work, and what areas provide a strong-point for you and your partner (Birchler et al., 2008). Regardless of what area(s) of your relationship that need assistance, be prepared to work, and don’t be afraid to seek help.
Seeing a Marriage and Family Therapist for help in your relationship can be beneficial, and is extremely common as well. Many couples see a therapist for minor bumps in their relationship, working with a shorter and more direct model of therapy. Other couples come in for more intense and long-term communication work. The benefit to therapy is that it is an investment in learning how to communicate better as a couple. Therapy is also about making changes, and will require work, introspection, and action for both partners in the relationship. Ultimately, if you’re looking for someone to give you answers or tell you what to do, don’t waste your money going to a therapist. However, if you want to learn how to improve the intimacy and communication in your relationship and build a strong foundation using the 7 C’s, seeing a Marriage and Family Therapist can be beneficial.
Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT
Marriage and Family Therapist
About Vanessa Lemminger:
Vanessa Lemminger is a State of California Board of Behavioral Science Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 3,500 hours of experience working with couples, families, and children. Vanessa is also a member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Vanessa Lemminger’s office is located in San Diego, California.
For more information, please visit her blog at: vanessalemminger.wordpress.com
Birchler, G. R., Fals-Stewart, W., & O’Farrell, T. J. (2008). Applications of Couple Therapy. In A. S. Gurman (Ed.), Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy (pp. 528-530). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
(Birchler, Fals-Stewart, O’Farrell, 2008)
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More from Vanessa:
Finding Love: Navigating the ‘single and looking’ status.
The Friend Who Cried Wolf