Couples counselling: How it doesn’t mean the end of the line
Couples are often nervous about coming to counselling. To the couple concerned, the idea of relationship therapy can seem like the beginning of the end and one or both partners are often nervous when they first arrive. This anxiety is not unexpected, the therapist will be quick to recognise it and to reassure him or her.
In life, few things stand still. In fact at this moment I can’t think of anything that does… even stone is weathered and eroded over time. Change is constantly with us and relationships are no exception.
However, just as you do not have to feel ill to feel better, a relationship doesn’t have to be on its last legs before it can be made stronger. Most things we do in life are to improve what is there currently. For example, you might exercise regularly to increase your strength, your stamina or muscle tone, if you have a car or bike you probably get it looked at from time to time to make sure it is working as it should. And do you have dental check-ups? It might sound like a crude comparison but really reviewing what is working and not working in your relationship is not so different.
Marital therapist Andrew Marshall believes there are a number of phases that a relationship goes through starting with the passionate, romantic beginning through to ultimately the comfortable love and acceptance of long-term involvement. Difficulties for couples often begin at the start of the second phase, when the heady romance of the early months gives way to reality and differences begin to show, often leading to conflict and anger. This can be a difficult time for couples as they start to fear that something is irreparably wrong in their relationship. The truth is that this is normal and that with understanding and just some small changes your relationship can feel bouncy and vibrant again.
It can be a huge relief for many couples to find their problems don’t spell the end.
Talking about it
Often one or both partners have tried to talk about the problem and it feels like a wall has come up or the discussion has ended in a row. Talking starts to feel dangerous and so it gets avoided by the couple.
Couple counselling offers a safe space where issues can be explored - sometimes for the first time. A relationship therapist can help a couple explore how their habitual behaviour patterns are interacting in the relationship. They can help the couple understand each other’s concerns.
The commitment of making time
My advice is to seek help as soon as you realise something feels wrong in the relationship, and you are finding it difficult to address it with your partner. Tell him/her that you really want them to come with you. Tell him/her couple counselling is for normal couples and doesn't mean your relationship has failed. Everyone gets stuck at times. Why put up with a situation neither of you enjoys?
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