Couples therapy / relationship counselling will help you understand what is causing conflict or causing you to drift apart
A happy relationship should bring out the best in you. When your relationship feels good, everything in life feels a bit easier and the world looks nicer. You will be nicer. Conversely, when things aren’t going well in your relationship, everything looks worse. The world appears harder.
People often fear that if their relationship isn’t happy then they must be with the wrong partner. But in reality, even after finding somebody wonderful, intimate relationships need ongoing attention. Even if you choose the best partner in the world you will still need a range of skills on hand in order to address and resolve the normal friction that arises in close relationships. Couples therapy will help.
Isn’t marriage supposed to be hard work?
Everybody knows that marriage is hard work. But many mistakenly believe that this means endurance. Marriage does take some hard work but the effort should not be to endure; the effort should be to learn about yourself and your partner and develop the skills needed to live in a close, committed relationship.
Why choose couples therapy?
The aim of couples therapy or relationship 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:
- Communication problems
- Lack of passion
- Lack of emotional intimacy
- Neurodivergent differences such as autism or ADHD
Life changes can 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. Changes such as:
- Moving in together
- Getting married
- Having a baby
- Children leaving home
If problems and conflict can’t be resolved it can lead to:
- Frequent fights
- Poor sex life
- Drinking more
- Unhappy children
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?
- We seem to be living separate lives
If any of the above comments sound familiar then relationship 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 partner 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.
It is commonly stated that the first year of marriage is the most difficult. This is no surprise. Even if you have plenty in common – cultural, religious, political views etc – you will still have different ideas of ‘normal’, or how things should be done. For example, you might make the bed differently or hang the toilet roll ‘the right way’ and your partner has their own, opposing version of the right way. You might have different ideas about how much time to spend with friends or family. Or different views on managing finances or raising children.
At a more fundamental level you will also have different ‘normals’ for how to address problems and resolve conflict. For instance, you might prefer to talk about problems whilst your partner may prefer to “just move on”. Or your styles of talking about conflict might be different, influenced by the way your families resolved problems when you were growing up.
These examples only scratch the surface of the innumerable differences that all couples experience. It is inevitable that living in close proximity will be difficult when almost everything you do will be viewed subjectively and differently. The key to getting along is not to agree on how you see everything, but to agree on how to manage each difference that arises.
Don’t wait until these points of conflict become serious. The earlier you address the tensions in your relationship the sooner you can forge new normals that make your relationship stronger and happier.
Individual sessions or couples sessions
Couples counselling sessions usually occur with both of you present. However, individual sessions might be beneficial when one partner has struggles that exist independently of the relationship such as anxiety or depression.
This might involve having some individual sessions alongside, or in place of the couple’s sessions. You might want to do the individual sessions with the same therapist or you may find it helpful to see a different therapist where these issues can be kept separate from the joint counselling.
Confidentiality in couples therapy is slightly different to individual therapy. In individual therapy everything between client and counsellor is confidential. In couples sessions information is usually considered confidential between both partners and the counsellor: all three people. Everything said to your counsellor will be treated as common knowledge.
Read more about confidentiality in couples therapy.
How many sessions do we need?
The number of sessions needed varies for every couple. Each appointment is 60 minutes long and sessions usually occur weekly if possible.
Whilst there are some models of couples therapy that claim to resolve relationship issues in X number of sessions, the reality is that every couple is unique in their struggles and there is no magic number that suits all.
When we work with couples we adapt our treatment approach according to each person’s needs. Subsequently, the amount of sessions will vary. We have an open ended approach to therapy and will be available for as long as you want, until you feel that your relationship has improved to how you want it to be.
Breaking up amicably
Sometimes it is just time to end it. Perhaps there has been too much hurt and damage. Maybe you have realised that you are just too fundamentally different. Breaking up is a painful process and emotions often run high making it difficult to see things clearly or objectively. Whilst many people are glad to see the back of their ex-partner, sometimes there are reasons for ongoing contact, most commonly when children are involved.
Breaking up amicably involves talking through what happened, making sense of why it didn’t work, hearing what your partner struggled with and explaining to them what you struggled with. As you begin to understand more fully how you both felt the hurt or anger can begin to dissipate and an amicable relationship becomes possible.
Couples counselling can provide a safe place to have these conversations with the therapist there to help you both hear things properly and understand things more clearly. The only way to truly move through the hurt or anger is to increase your understanding.
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. Many 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.
Relationship 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 effective skills for dealing with conflict as well as increase your understanding of how you and your partner relate to each other. You can then build your relationship into something that makes you happy, rather than just something that you tolerate.
What happens during the session?
Couples will usually attend their counselling 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.
A relationship 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.
This article will help you think about your first appointment and understand how to get the most out of your couples counselling.