Relationships can be wonderful but they can also be hard work and most need some degree of effort and compromise from time to time. However, when the effort needed is exhausting or compromise feels like yet another loss your relationship will become a struggle and conflict or avoidance may take the place of intimacy. At best this leads to a lonely or unhappy relationship; at worst, affairs or other damaging behaviours can occur.
Who is marriage counselling for?
Marriage counselling – or relationship counselling – is for any two people in a relationship. We work with couples who are married, preparing for marriage, dating, de-facto, together or separated, opposite-sex or same sex.
We help couples with big or small problems ranging from loss of interest in each other, to frequent fights, to affairs. No problem is too big or too small.
Why choose marriage counselling?
The aim of marriage counselling is to help you understand and change what goes on between you and your partner that is either causing conflict or causing you to drift apart. Unhappiness in a relationship can often arise as a result of mistrust, communication problems, anger, or lack of passion. Life changes such as moving in together, getting married, having a baby, or children leaving home, can also add extra pressure to one or both partners and minor issues that once seemed insignificant can quickly become magnified and problematic, leading to sadness and frustration.
Couples coming for therapy often say things such as:
- We have arguments about the smallest things – they just come out of nowhere!
- When it’s good it’s great, but when it’s bad it’s unbearable.
- Things used to be great, but now we just live like flatmates.
- We just keep going around in circles – it’s the same old argument over and over.
- We need to decide if we want to stay together.
- It’s not that something is wrong, it’s that something’s just not right.
- The passion has gone – we just aren’t attracted to each other like we used to be.
- We never argue. So why are we unhappy?
If any of the above comments sound familiar then marriage counselling can help. Often one or both partners feel stuck in a pattern of relating to each other that leaves them feeling upset or frustrated and despite best intentions, each time they approach certain conversations they find themselves drawn back into an unavoidable and far too familiar struggle. The subject may be different but the pattern is usually the same. Perhaps one of them criticises or blames and the other walks away. Maybe nobody says anything and there is just an uncomfortable silence. Regardless of whether you argue or avoid the topic completely, when unresolved problems add up they can eat away at your relationship and make you miserable.
What happens during the session?
Couples will usually attend the appointments together. Your counsellor will want to hear from both of you, as you will each have a different experience of the situation. Often the way in which you communicate with each other can play a part in your problems and your counsellor can help you understand how to improve this. Sometimes underlying issues or concerns (such as unresolved arguments or historical experiences) might be contributing to the problem and your counsellor will help you to explore these other factors that you may not have realised were relevant. The counsellor isn’t there to take sides or to decide who is right or wrong; the role of the therapist is to help you both understand your relationship more clearly so that you can change the areas of it that aren’t working for you.
Sometimes as the marriage counselling progresses it may become apparent that one partner is struggling more than the other or has personal issues such as anxiety or depression that exist independently of the relationship. When this occurs it may be beneficial to either change the marriage counselling to individual counselling, or to commence individual counselling alongside the couple format.
Don’t leave it too late
Far too often professional help is considered as a last resort. Couples often hope that things will eventually get better on their own, or attribute the relationship problems to external factors such as work stress, or mistakenly believe that every couple has problems like this and they just need to accept how things are. Beliefs such as these can mean that professional help is dismissed or delayed which, subsequently, can make separation or divorce increasingly likely. Marriage counselling is much more effective and helpful if you both choose it sooner rather than later.
Counselling need not be about simply trying to save a broken relationship – it can also be about improving an “OK” relationship. A counsellor can help you develop some useful skills for dealing with conflict as well as increase your understanding of how you and your partner relate to each other so that you can build your relationship into something that makes you happy, rather than just something that you tolerate.