Want to fight for your love? Then get ready to talk. . .
Cheryl and Ashley Cole's secret therapy sessions may not rescue their relationship, but figures show Irish couples are signing up for mediation in record numbers, writes Deirdre Reynolds
At first she vowed to 'Fight for This Love', but it seems Cheryl Cole has decided quitting's not out of the question after all.
Cheated women the world over cheered as the X Factor babe (26) confirmed she had dumped philandering footballer husband Ashley last month.
Despite allegations that the England ace (29) played away from home five times during their three-and-a-half year marriage, however, she refused to rule out a reconciliation.
And the two were this week expected to attend secret counselling sessions aimed at rescuing their relationship.
Now, though, it looks as if the singer has had another change of heart after calling in Prince Charles' divorce lawyers.
Girls Aloud star Cheryl reportedly consulted Fiona Shackleton of Payne Hicks Beach, the London legal eagle who represented Sir Paul McCartney and Prince Charles, in recent days. But could counselling save Cheryl and Ashley's marriage?
Thousands of Irish couples are certainly hoping it will keep them out of the divorce courts.
Divorce rates may have surged by 70% between 2002 and 2006, but the number of couples seeking marriage counselling is also on the up.
"In 2009, we provided over 40,000 hours of relationship counselling to individuals and couples in our 59 centres around Ireland," says Jane Ferguson, Acting Director of Counselling at ACCORD.
"There has been a year-on-year growth in the number of couples coming to ACCORD for counselling -- indicating that they're prepared to seek professional help to work through their difficulties."
And what was once swept under the rug as an admission of failure is now a popular way for Irish couples to buffer their union against the stresses of modern life, she says.
"Conflict in a relationship is natural and people need to learn how to deal with it in a life-giving way. Couples should view conflict as an opportunity for growth in their relationship -- dealt with in a positive way, it can actually strengthen the relationship."
Tiger Woods, Courteney Cox-Arquette, Madonna and Guy Ritchie, and Grey's Anatomy actor Patrick Dempsey are just some of the stars who've owned up to hiring a mediator to help mend their marriage.
In fact, the practice has become so common Stateside that it's even the subject of new tongue-in-cheek TV show The Marriage Ref -- in which a celebrity panel including twice-divorced Madge, Alec Baldwin and Jerry Seinfeld issue rulings on marital bust-ups.
More of us might be doing it -- but here at home, marriage counselling hasn't quite made the leap from unspeakable social taboo to casual dinner chat just yet.
Nonetheless, Dublin counsellor Owen Connolly believes every couple should make regular trips to the therapist -- whether they're newlyweds or at each other's throats.
"Falling in love, getting married and living happily ever after is a complete myth," he says. "No two people can make a once-off commitment and agree to keep those rules for a lifetime without revisiting the original contract. People change over time and accommodating these changes is what makes a successful marriage."
Marriage counselling may have been too little, too late for Cheryl and her love-rat hubbie.
She announced her decision to divorce last month -- but wracked by guilt that she had been a bad wife, pals say she considered giving it another go.
Counselling may have given Cheryl the moral high ground, but it's unlikely to have saved her marriage, says Connolly.
"Any counsellor that has to sit through the pain of couples dealing with shattered trust knows only too well that you can't put a patch on the problem.
'Marriage counselling isn't what Cheryl and Ashley need. The NCT method of counselling is never going to be enough to help them -- each one needs personal counselling to address what caused the breakdown in the first place, before even considering getting back together.
"Couples who try to 'fix' broken trust are heading for failure -- what they need to do is tear up the contract that has been broken and create a new one."
So can counselling save a marriage that has hit the skids -- or just prolong its shelf-life?
"Sadly, half of those who avail of our services are already considering separation," says Jane Ferguson of ACCORD. "The time to avail of professional help is when the line of communication first breaks down."
"Women's intuition is usually quite accurate," says Owen, who runs Connolly Counselling Centre in Stillorgan, "so they're often the ones who act on asking important questions about the marriage. Men can be slower to recognise when things are getting a bit shaky, so my advice to men is: Listen to your wife!"