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  • Writer's pictureShannon Gallagher, CCC, LCT-C, RCC

Is your relationship in a never-ending cycle?

Updated: Jan 25


When discussing this topic with individuals or couples I tend to use the same metaphor or imagination-based method every time. I like to call it the Rowboat. Below is the full exercise and metaphor I use with my clients:


Rowboat in the water, two oars


You find yourself in a rowboat.


You are in the middle of a body of water.


You can see all the options to reach land from where you are.


Do you have oars?


Is your partner with you on the boat?


If they are, are you both willing to row?


If yes, are you both rowing in the same direction or are you both spinning the boat in circles?


This is the point now where you both need to decide either to both row together to reach the shore, or jump the boat and swim alone.


What did you decide and why?


I know this metaphor is hard, and can really point to teamwork and if the relationship is stable and working towards the same goals or not. Let’s break down the metaphor to see why those questions are asked.

1. Do you have oars? This helps me as a therapist see if a couple has the tools needed to work together and if not then I know I need to help them find those tools.

2. Is your partner with you on the boat? This helps me see if you feel alone in your relationship, and therefore are the one always doing the work to fix things or always trying to make it work, without your partner present. This helps me see that teamwork building is needed or to make sure there is more avenues in the relationship to show that both are putting in the same amount of effort.

3. If they are, are you both willing to row? This points to the motivation to mend and repair the relationship for both parties but also how each perceives the others' willingness.

4. If yes, are you both rowing in the same direction or are you both spinning the boat in circles? This can help to show how well a couple generally works together or if they are working to fix but not in the same way which causes a cycle or circle of never-ending frustration. If the couple both can see them working towards the same goal, then great! If not, this tells me we need to find a way to work together and find a common ground to build stability so that they can both row to shore as a team once more.

5. Finally…What did you decide and why? Everyone has their own personal motivations and reasons. Especially when it comes to couples counselling. With couples that come to see me I see a few different things, they both want to fix it; one wants to fix it and the other wants an out; or they both want an out and do not know how to get there. This gives me the last piece of the puzzle so I know the main goal for coming to see me.

So, now that you heard the exercise and the reasoning behind each point are you still in the middle of the water struggling to work together to reach the shore? Or do you see a clear path and are both working to get to the other side and just need help along the way? I believe that most relationships can get back on track, but only if we want them to. That is why I try to remain the optimist for my couples so that no matter what their goal is, they know it will be okay and we can find a way to make things better at minimum for them individually and at most as a couple.


I will leave everyone with one of the things I say to all my couples, if you are strong enough to almost break a relationship then you are strong enough to put it back together, but only if you truly want to.




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