Imagine your relationship is a duck.
You waddle along all cute and fuzzy for the first few weeks, just getting sturdy legs beneath you. Soon you're off flying, having slipped the surly bonds of earth's gravity. Eventually, summer afternoons lazing around ponds give way to the fall migration south, and you take to the air without a care in the world. Until hunting season begins. Before you know it, you're staring down the barrel of a 12-gauge determined to turn you into dinner's confit. The bullet of breakup is a constant threat. At what point do you stop dodging the bullet and surrender your relationship to its messy end?
We went to Dr. Phil for the answer. More specifically, we went to his Web site, DrPhil.com.
But we could have just dropped a quarter in a fortune-telling machine and hoped for the best. According to TV's favorite Oprah-made shrink, there just aren't any hard and fast rules when it comes to cutting the cord. Verbal and physical abuse are sure signs that your relationship needs to end immediately. Other than that, it's up to you to realize you're too fed up to continue.
Julia Gerhardt, licensed clinical social worker at Boise's Summit Counseling echoes Dr. Phil's advice.
"I never make that call," says Gerhardt about determining when the time has come for her clients to end their relationship or marriage. "It's always up to them. I'm here to help them come to a point when they are in a position to make that decision. My job as a professional is not to give people answers to help them but to get them to a place where they find those answers within themselves."
Dr. Phil offers a list of questions to get people started: What was your marriage/relationship like when it worked? When did it go wrong and why? Is what you're fighting about worth breaking up your marriage over? What do you want? What is it costing you to be in your relationship? Are you willing to put in the effort to make the relationship work? And finally, personal accountability: What are you doing to contaminate the relationship? Visit his Web site, and you can download a handful of relationship tests, too, if you need it in black and white.
BW asked Gerhardt whether she thought there were any noticeable patterns as to when couples break up. But despite what Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe would have us believe, the seven-year itch might be more fiction than fact.
"Most couples do reach a point where the honeymoon is over, reality starts to set in, and issues start to come up," Gerhardt said. "Most of the people I see have difficulty communicating appropriately. They start to lose that in-love feeling and that makes them question whether or not they really love the person still and whether they should actually be with the person if they're feeling that way."
Gerhardt says there is a slight upswing in demand for her services in the winter.
Overall, she says that marriage and relationship counseling is about getting an outsider's perspective on new tools that improve communication between two people.
"When people seek couple's counseling," she says, "it's not always the end of the road. For some people it's for those more severe issues."
In other words, some ducks do manage to dodge the bullet—again and again—to make their way south for the winter. And then do it all over again next year.