How to stay crazy in love
With Beyoncé and Jay-Z turning to music to salvage their marriage, Celine Naughton meets the couples taking an unconventional approach to relationship difficulties
Having laid bare their rocky relationship in the goldfish bowl of pop superstardom, Beyoncé and Jay-Z are reportedly still Crazy in Love after 10 years of marriage. Their ups and downs have been put out there with Bey's 2016 album Lemonade, which charted Jay-Z's infidelities for all to hear, and his 2017 album 4:44, in which he promised to be a better man.
The star couple have sung and rapped their way through betrayal, hurt and forgiveness, and now the Carters, going by their married name, celebrate their renewed romance with the release of a joint album, Everything Is Love. While global sales alone are enough to put a smile on anyone's face, by all accounts, the billionaire couple are said to be genuinely happy together. Could mere mortals take a leaf from their book and collaborate on a project to overcome a bump in the road in their relationship?
"It can help, because it provides an opportunity for connection," says Lisa O'Hara, psychotherapist, couple/relationship counsellor and author of When a Relationship Ends. "Beyoncé and Jay-Z have shared interests, but most couples who seek counselling are not communicating. They're nagging, fighting, and either having no sex or one partner might say they're having too much. Often it's the small things, like: 'We never kiss anymore,' or 'Will you look at me when I'm talking to you?' If somebody feels they're no longer a priority in their partner's life, they may respond by being clingy, withdrawn or angry."
Discovering a shared hobby can be a good solution - in the midst of divorce rumours last week, Victoria Beckham said she and David have started learning about art together - but O'Hara has seen some couples in crisis make dubious choices in a bid to solve their problems, like deciding to get married or have a baby.
"These are very risky ways of trying to repair a fractured relationship," she says. "They're avoiding the issues, and if they think having a baby will make things better, it will do the complete opposite if the couple are not connecting well.
"Research tells us that most couples seek counselling over six years too late. That's an awfully long time to be unhappy. Early intervention is very powerful and puts couples back in control before control is lost. Unfortunately, by the time they seek help, they're often feeling helpless and lost. They're desperate to know how to reconnect."
Couples make that reconnection in a variety of ways. Some, like the characters in Marian Keyes' latest novel, The Break, try taking time out from each other for a short period. However, pressing pause on a marriage is more likely to signal the end of the relationship rather than an intermission, as actor David Schwimmer may have discovered. Last year the Friends star announced that he and wife Zoe Buckman were "taking time apart to re-evaluate". To date, they appear to be still on a break.
"I encourage couples not to take a break unless there is so much resentment that being together becomes unbearable," says O'Hara. "In those circumstances, then taking a breather can be an opportunity for both partners to check in with themselves and each other. However, more often than not, it leads to separation."
Some couples on the verge of splitting turn to 'retrouvaille' (French for 'rediscovery') weekend retreats in Dublin. One of the couples who shared their story online were Pat and Marian, who had been married 10 years and had two children when they did the programme in a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage. Pat described them in the years leading up to then as "married singles".
"The intimacy was gone," Pat has said. "We lived in the same house and slept in the same bed, but we were poles apart emotionally. It became preferable to stay out on a Friday night with the lads after work having a few drinks or going to a football match."
"It's a bit like living with a stranger," said Marian. "You're doing all the normal things every day, yet there's no connection, so you're very isolated, you're lonely, and you want to make things better, but you don't know how."
Although they decided to give the retreat a shot, Pat admitted he was less than committed to the idea.
"I went so nobody could accuse me of not having tried my best," he said.
They shared the weekend with other couples, some of whom they say were in the depths of despair, but the tools they learned helped nourish their relationship.
"It wasn't a magic bullet, but it was the start of a process," said Pat. "We were that close to destroying what is now a very good family. If we had walked away, it would have been the biggest mistake of our lives. We love the decision we made to make the decision to love."
Retrouvaille brings couples in crisis together for a residential weekend with four Sunday follow-up meetings over three months. It's run on a voluntary basis by a team of married couples who have been through the course and aims to give people the tools to communicate with each other and work together to rebuild their marriage. It operates under the auspices of the Catholic Church, and while it is open to those of other religious beliefs and none, it has a clear Catholic ethos. It costs €500 per couple. The next programme is due to take place from October 5-7.
But not everybody waits until the cracks emerge to tend to their relationship. Fiona Daly, psychotherapist and relationship and sexuality counsellor, teaches tantric techniques to couples who want to keep their sex lives as passionate for life as they were in the first flush of romance. She dispels the myth - created largely by Sting's infamous comment in 1990 about himself and Trudie Styler having seven-hour couplings - that tantric sex is an hours-long bonkfest. Sting himself has since clarified that the seven hours actually included dinner and a movie, adding that the tantric element of their lovemaking - which they continue to this day - is "a spiritual act".
"Tantra is not a crazy, out-there thing," says Fiona. "It's an ancient Indian tradition based on 5,000 years of understanding how a couple can channel their sexuality and connect with each other on a deeper level. The techniques recreate the feelings that couples experience in the early days of their relationships when they often gaze lovingly into each other's eyes and experience great desire. By doing that consciously for 10 minutes, oxytocin is released from the brain and floods through the body, leading to a high level of arousal."
Now based in Greystones, Co Wicklow, Fiona and her partner Edwin Koolmoes met 15 years ago in India, where she was doing her final studies in the ways of tantra and he was studying counselling. Before then she'd been a production designer working on a variety of films and TV shows, including RTE series The Clinic.
"A pivotal point for me came when we were in Clifden making a programme about the Magdalene laundries," she says. "As we filmed in the industrial school in Letterfrack, it struck me how much damage has been done to our society because of our dysfunctional attitude to sex. The Catholic Church's dogma that sex was a shameful act was cruelly visited on these innocent children. And even in mainstream culture, generations that followed grew up carrying a sense of shame about our bodies and our sexuality. We made sex and sexuality a sin, unlike the Indian philosophy, which saw it as a gateway to spiritual enlightenment.
"I've been counselling couples for 15 years now, and I'm gratified to see so many nourishing a healthy sexual connection in their relationships - and not waiting until there's a problem before giving this important part of their lives the attention it deserves."