Psychotherapist Nicholas Rose book on why couples decide to split or stay together

Images above: Nicholas Rose; Better Together

Should I stay or should I go?

One third of all marriages in the UK end in divorce. The rate increases between those who have been together 20 years (37.2%) and those who have been together 30 years (43.6%), suggesting people stick together and mull it over for years before they give up on the relationship in which they have invested so much of their lives.

What makes them finally decide one way or the other? When is staying together the better option?

Psychotherapist Nicholas Rose, whose practice is in Chiswick and who writes a regular column for The Chiswick Calendar, has spent the past 20 years listening to the experiences of thousands of couples.

He has distilled the insight gained from those sessions into 12 cases studies (fictional but typical) looking at the usual reasons why people split and what couples can do to improve their relationships if they want to stay together.

I asked him the obvious question based on the title – did he think people were usually better off staying together, given the obvious disadvantages of splitting. As I write this, figures have just been published by the Child Poverty Action Group showing half of all children in single parent families are in relative poverty and according to Age UK loneliness is a major issue among older people.

“I thought about adding a question mark to the title” he told me “but decided to go with the statement rather than the question because this is a very positive book, in that I haven’t worked with a couple where there wasn’t the potential for change if they could see the dynamic they were creating.

“Nobody wants to be an abuser or to be in an abusive relationship.”

Relationships usually break down, he says, because two people can’t agree and that becomes a cause of conflict. What it is they can’t agree on can be pretty basic – what food they eat or where they go on holiday. There are recurring themes reflected in the 12 scenarios: intimacy, infidelity, communication, breakdown in trust, change as a result of bereavement or loss, infertility and changing feelings.

In the book Nicholas works through problems such as “I can’t get past his infidelity”, “our parenting styles are so different”, “her parents are so controlling” and “not enough sex”. Only one scenario ends in the decision to separate.

How does he know whether people are better off if they decide to stay together?

“It’s an impossible question to answer whether there’s a happy ever after” he says, but you have to weigh up the options.

“If you’ve nearly been hit by a bus, your relationship with buses will forever be changed. You can avoid them, but what are the consequences?”

What he offers is a process by which people can better evaluate what they’ve got in comparison with what the alternative might be and work out how to be at ease with each other despite everything life has thrown at them.

“Everyone has their own truth. Feelings are not to be dismissed or denied but understood. People are better together when the ease and what they have in common outways unease and alienation.

“It is important to look at what is wrong for me / you rather than what is wrong with me / you.”

If a couple can stay in the process and reach a point of understanding, that’s going to be good, he says.

By reading through the examples, he hopes people will be “confident enough to try and have a conversation.

“People are painfully stuck in patterns without realising there are other possibilities.”

If you are a subscriber of The Chiswick Calendar and would like a free copy of Nicholas Rose’s book Better Together, we have 20 copies to give away. Email The Chiswick Calendar at info@thechiswickcalendar.co.uk with your name and address for us to pass on to Nicholas to send you a copy. [Update 12:37, 5/7/22 – all 20 copies of Better Together have been reserved. Thank you for your interest.]

It is available, priced £9.74, from Amazon.

Nicholas Rose is a regular contributor to The Chiswick Calendar. You can read his blog here: Mind Matters.

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