Will couple counselling work for me?
It’s not uncommon for couples to change their minds about separating, and even to halt divorce proceedings or remarry. Sometimes it’s sentiment or hope that leads to the reunion; sometimes a split would be a financial or logistical nightmare, or sometimes the couple just can’t be bothered to go through with it. Mostly, though, when couples reunite, it’s because something happens to change each partner’s perspective which gives them more motivation to find ways to manage aspects of their relationship which have been difficult. Sometimes this change is due to circumstances which provide a lightbulb moment. Frequently, someone else provides information or a view of the circumstances which previously hadn’t been considered.
This is one of the functions of couple and relationship counselling. Unfortunately, most couples don’t seek therapeutic help until the relationship is on its knees. Some see counselling as an admission of failure, think they ought to be able to manage without help or that counselling won’t be able to help until the relationship is at the point of splitting up. In fact, this is often too late. Even though couples do pull back from the brink, unhappy partners usually emotionally withdraw from the relationship as a means of self-protection long before it officially ends. Some couples also expect to be blamed by the counsellor or make it clear to their partner that they’re being ‘taken’ to counselling to be told off. Fortunately, counselling doesn’t work like that. A qualified and experienced relationship therapist won’t take sides, but will be trying to understand what’s going on between the couple, such as how they’re triggering one another’s unhappiness and defences, and looking for new perspectives on old issues.
Many couples repeat the same unhelpful patterns over and over again, without seeing any way out. Couple counsellors can help them to see different ways of relating and of understanding one another’s motivation. The earlier this happens, the better. Leaving it means unhelpful ways of relating become habitual and entrenched, allowing pain and resentment to grow. A common belief is that nothing will change unless the other partner changes, but this conviction means giving away all your control. No wonder many couples feel hopeless. In fact, small differences in one partner inevitably bring about changes in the other, so it’s possible to gain perspective and more sense of being able to achieve change even when only one partner attends counselling.
If you're splitting up
Even if you have left it late, and feel the relationship is ending, it’s still worth trying counselling. The therapist won’t assume either that you want to stay together or split up, but will be interested in both your thoughts about what’s happening for you and the possibilities for making things better. Sometimes this does mean organising the relationship very differently or even splitting up. Even then, you can be helped to achieve a workable relationship where it’s possible to split more amicably, continue to co-parent effectively and even have a better relationship which you both enjoy.
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About Cate Campbell
Cate Campbell is a counsellor specialising in relationships, psychosexual therapy and trauma.