More and more couples, under financial pressure due to the downturn in the economy, are seeking marriage counselling, according to the Galway branch of Accord, the voluntary organisation set up by the Catholic Church to help people resolve difficulties in their marriages and relationships.
Mary O’hIci, of the local branch, which celebrates 40 years in operation this year, says a significant percentage of its clients cite financial difficulties as problems.
“We are seeing quite a percentage of this now,” says the former secondary teacher who together, with Mary O’ Toole from Glenina, has been a marriage counsellor with Galway Accord since its inception. They are the only original members of the organisation which is based at Arus de Brun, Newtownsmith.
“Before, we would ask is finance a problem and people would say ‘Things are tight but we are OK’. However, the situation is different now. Lack of finance is a huge issue for a number of people. These are often people who would have led very comfortable lives and they are now left with very uncomfortable lives. They have bills, enormous debts, properties they are unable to rent, no job maybe, they don’t have money for their car or children. All layers of the onion are peeled away. It is very sad and can be very difficult for people to rescue themselves.
“People are afraid to open the door, to go outside, they are afraid they will meet someone they owe money to. Sometimes genuinely they have not been paid themselves. These people are used to being out at work and are now home all day.Very often their self esteem is tied up with their work. They feel they have failed themselves and their families. This is very hard on a relationship. It may help them to talk [to an outsider], they often can’t share it with their family as they may feel they are admitting defeat.”
Communication difficulties, lack of respect, infidelity and pornography, gambling and alcohol problems are other reasons why people contact Accord, which dealt with 250 new cases so far this year, says Mrs O’hIci, whose husband Peadar, a retired principal of the “Bish” secondary school, was a marriage counsellor for 25 years. She says life can be “tough” and some people lead lives of “quiet desperation”.
“There is often not one reason as such why people come for counselling. Very often is is a combination - infidelity and pornography, for example, or gambling and maybe alcoholism with it. Online betting can be a problem - this can be very difficult on the trust in a relationship. You can do away with a lot of money quietly without leaving your house or without using cash. People can feel because they are using their credit cards they are not spending real money.
“Lack of respect is a huge issue, respect is as important as love. This would include everything from criticism, insults, contempt and belittling. It is very difficult to function [in a relationship] if there is no respect. It can eat away at one’s self image. You might see someone regarded as a high flyer professionally but in this relationship they are seen as nothing.”
Silence can be another wounding weapon in a relationship. Some couples, particularly in the past, would not have spoken to each other for years, using their children to relay messages back and forth,
“You would hear of cases years ago where people got into that way of being. They accept it as normal but it’s not. You have children absorbing this behaviour.
“Infidelity is a very difficult one because of the breach of trust. Re-establishing it can be very difficult and painful.”
The people who seek help from Accord range in age from their early 20s to 60s, according to Mrs O’hIci. Some may be married for two or three years, others are together for 40. Fifty per cent of clients are men. Some come alone, others with their partners. People hear about the organisation, which provides counselling during the day and evening, from newspapers, the internet, posters and word of mouth.
“You may have people married for 20 years but there is something gnawing at them. Then something may have happened recently which is the catalyst [for seeking relationship counselling]. Sometimes couples are getting older, their children are leaving home and they wonder can they look at their other half for the rest of their lives. The boom facilitated people leading separate lives, there was a lot of going out. But relationships take time to nurture and cultivate. Like a plant they need constant looking after.”
While there are no set fees for its counselling service Accord welcomes donations of €20 to €40 for its hourly sessions. People with limited means are not expected to pay. “When people come to us it is important they come for at least six sessions, that they commit to counselling” says Ms O’hIci. “The first session involves filling in a questionnaire and trying to hone down the problem. Then we try to work on what are the real issues and the solutions they would like for these issues. We don’t become involved in anyone’s decision making process. We give them space and time to search for their own answers.”
Accord runs pre-marriage courses, provides marriage and relationship counselling (people do not have to be married to avail of counselling ) as well as counselling for people who have had their first baby and a fertility awareness service. Telephone (091 ) 562331.