Relationships go through different stages for a couple. Termed life stages and specific tasks must be addressed and negotiated at each stage, for example, dating, living together, marriage, a first child, an empty nest and retirement. Whilst this is happening each partner is also going through the unique process of growth and change.
As the years go by, some may have unreasonable expectations of their partner demanding that they fulfil all of their needs. They may have forgotten that whilst dating, they had other friends and interests that they brought to the relationship. They could talk about these things; bringing joy and enthusiasm to the relationship, cementing it through increased intimacy. Couples counselling can encourage people to look outside the partnership for other interests, thus enabling this void to be filled.
Partners often come for couple counselling when their usual patterns and ways of coping are no longer effective. Often a crisis develops when the steady state of the couple’s system is disrupted by another external situation, such as family moving, loss of a job or birth of a child. The couple can experience panic and chaos as they face the changes these events can bring with them.
At times it seems as though the couple in crisis can only see the negative points in their relationship. The focus is upon hurling insults, blaming one another and their bonds become a battlefield, with devastating effect. They may ask, “How did we come to this?” and “How can we get back to common ground?”
The role of the counsellor is to remind them of an earlier time when their connection was warming and based on recognition of one another’s strengths and attractions. With this focus, the pair can rediscover a time when things were different and reach a place of hope. As the couple’s recent way of interacting (arguing and complaining) is replaced by warmth and encouragement via therapy, warm memories are evoked and re-experienced. What is needed in these situations is more love, but what often occurs is individuals distancing themselves from loved ones.
Counselling can be effective for a couple even if only one person in the relationship attends. As this person gradually changes, it produces an unconscious shift in the behaviour of their partner and thus alters the dynamics of their relationship. Therapy can be the means by which the couple can navigate a path to rediscover each other and create a new system with a new steady state.
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