Statistically speaking, people split more before Christmas. How come so many relationships fail right before the holiday of love? The answers of the sexual counselor and couple Bettina Disler.
Bettina Disler, do you like going to work?
Much. Why does he ask me?
In a job one might be dealing with happy people and not just troubled couples.
The fact is that couples who come to me are looking for a change in their relationship. They want to solve a problem, which I find extremely exciting, also because they have goals and therefore a lot of motivation. I think accompanying people on their journey is one of the best things about my job.
Is it true that at the end of autumn, just before Christmas, couples break up more than usual?
I don’t keep statistics on this. But I notice that there is some pressure right after the summer holidays and around Christmas.
There are even studies that prove it. Social psychologists carried out a survey, over a longer period of time, looking at Facebook profiles and “relationship status”. They’ve found that there’s a real surge in breakups around the Christmas season.
Expert Bettina Disler
Bettina Disler is a couple and sex counselor and member of the German Society for Sexual Research (DGfs). After studying directing at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) and the New York Film Academy (NYFA), you have directed operas and numerous films. You have completed a master’s degree in sexual health at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences (HSLU) and numerous training courses. Disler lives and works in Zurich.
Often couples want to give their relationship another chance during the summer holidays and then realize that there is no future left. Separation in early winter is inevitably the consequence, but before it gets to that point, some couples want to try therapy together. As a last resort, so to speak.
How do you manage to remain neutral and keep your distance during counseling?
It is part of my role as a couples therapist to always remain neutral. For me it is important to work together to achieve the goals of the people who come to me.
Probably each of us has experienced it in our own circle of friends: the feeling that a person has stayed too long in a toxic relationship, the need to tell them: “don’t do this anymore, it leads nowhere”. How do you approach these relationships as a therapist?
I often explain to my clients that therapy does not always lead to being together, but can also end in separation. Couples counseling is an exploration between staying together and breaking up.
What triggers the hint of a possible separation in your clients?
Some people are scared, others say, “That’s why we’re here.” There is often discussion as to what “partnership” should be involved in the separation. Couples who have children together remain parents for the rest of their lives. In the parental union one cannot separate, but in the love and sexual union yes.
Referring to your more than 10 years of experience as a relationship counselor and sex therapist, in your opinion, are breakups more dignified today than they used to be?
I can’t answer this question. But what I notice more and more when it comes to separations is that in many cases within a couple the partners evaluate the relationship situation differently.
What do you mean?
Let me give you an example: while one person has already thought a lot about a possible separation, the other lags behind, even believing that everything is still the same. In such a situation, it is essential that those who want to separate do not wait any longer and take action to do so.
Many studies show that almost everyone longs for great love that lasts forever. Yet it often doesn’t work. Because?
It would be more interesting to analyze why it works for some people. I also observe that more and more young people are convinced that great love does not exist. Some therefore see the solution in loving several people at the same time, i.e. in the polyamorous relationship model.
I will be blatant and say that more people in a relationship equals more problems.
From my practical experience I can say that the polyamorous relationship model is certainly not easier to manage than the monogamous one. Just like an open relationship or the swinger model brings with it many challenges.
Is there ever safety in love?
No. Nothing in life is meant to last forever. But that’s exactly what makes it so exciting.
Do you personally still believe in the concept of marriage?
I believe in the concept of love and I am a great supporter of it.
Every breakup is different – do you still have any advice on how to best deal with it?
It is very important for a person to look within themselves and consider which part they have brought into the relationship and which they have not.
A self-criticism is therefore necessary.
Here’s the thing: A relationship always consists of two participants, or more. Sure, one can argue that the partner is entirely responsible for the couple’s misery, but this is only true in a few cases.
In your practice it will probably happen several times that one of the two partners is specialized in the role of victim.
It’s easy to take the victim position and argue that the other person is to blame for everything, instead of trying to take responsibility and admit that you contributed to the situation.
Has she ever been left?
Yes, I was “ghosted” once.
How do you excuse?
I had a partner who disappeared from my life overnight, never to be seen again. At the time, however, I didn’t know that a term would arise to define this dynamic.
Let’s go back to the theme of Christmas and breakups: how is the situation among your clients at the moment?
Of course there are couples who come to me because they say they are on their last legs. But there are also those who have been coming to me regularly for years…
… why does the crisis never pass?
No (laughs). They come regularly because they want to avoid getting into a serious crisis again.
How often do these couples come to you?
From one to four times a year.
Are women still giving most of the impetus for therapy?
I would not say: in my practice the ratio is quite balanced.
Can anything be learned from one relationship for the next?
Absolutely yes. But not everyone does it right away.
The conclusion I drew from our conversation is that the ability to be in a relationship is not a given.
It’s like this: managing a relationship is an art and at best it is done with a lot of love.