It is distressing when a client tells me that they have never observed - or themselves, experienced - what they would define as a successful romantic relationship. Statements like "maybe good relationships just don't exist" or "no one in my family ever had a good relationship," usually follow. Many clients enter psychotherapy because of relationship-based difficulties and some of them eventually feel that they are doomed to continuously have trouble or fail in their efforts to enjoy a successful romantic partnership.
I am often told by clearly disheartened clients, that the trajectory of their romantic partnership has been downhill. Frustrations and disappointments are said to develop as early as a few years - sometimes even a few months - after the honeymoon ends and "normal life" resumes. One client told me that he and his wife suffered from the marital equivalent of a "postpartum depression that never ended." Frequently, in order to comfort themselves, it seems, I will be told that this downward trajectory is "standard," and "everyone's experience." These assertions, I fear, while primarily designed to self-soothe, also seem to firm up the belief that any long-term romantic relationship is likely to be a doomed enterprise. When I comment that while relationships may change over time and that change does not necessarily imply that a relationship turns from positive to negative or, when I mention that some relationships have been known to deepen and improve with age, some clients looked at me in disbelief.