A romantic relationship is one of the closest forms of relationship that we have. Choosing a partner and staying together through life's ups and downs is rarely simple - if you choose to then get married, buy a home or start a family together, well, this only adds to the complexity.
Very few relationships exist conflict free - whether it’s the odd disagreement or ‘bicker’, repeatedly arguing or you’ve lost the fun element in your relationship - it’s natural to start to question its longevity. When this (one of our most important relationships) begins to falter, our health and happiness can also suffer. For many of us, our first instinct is to try and work through the problems alone, but it can be incredibly helpful to seek outside support, whether that be through friends and family, or even a professional.
What is relationship counselling?
Relationship counselling (also known as couples counselling) is an effective form of talking therapy.
Sessions take place in a safe space and look to improve communication and resolve issues within an intimate relationship. In contrast to counselling for relationship problems, which can be undertaken solely through individual sessions, couples counselling is a term applied to talking therapy for two people within a relationship.
Typical of sessions, much of the work you do will take place within the counselling room itself. However, it’s common that the counsellor will ask you to complete ‘homework’ in between sessions. This may be in the form of specific tasks or to discuss a topic together at home.
You will get the chance to talk about these tasks in your next session, discussing any challenges you came up against and how the experience made you both feel.
Whilst couples therapy is ideally suited to couples attending the sessions together, sometimes one partner is reluctant to attend, so you can look to speak to a couples counsellor on your own, to begin with. You might find your partner wants to join you after you’ve had some initial sessions alone and it can be helpful to intersperse couple sessions with individual sessions.
It’s dynamically different to one-to-one counselling because there are three people in the room, but it shares the same values: confidentiality, a code of ethics, and a focus on you and your needs. What it’s not about is the opinions or preferred outcomes of the counsellor.
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What it isn't
The role of a couples counsellor is to facilitate change and bring about a resolution by helping you both communicate more effectively and reach your own conclusions under professional guidance. It’s important to remember that when you go for couples therapy, you won’t simply be told what to do. A couples counsellor will not give you the answers to or whether or not you should separate.
If you’re nervous about discussing private matters with a stranger, that’s completely natural and expected. Try to keep in mind that your counsellor is not there to criticise you; therapy should be a space free of judgement where you can explore your feelings and emotions openly.
How can couples counselling help?
In order to bring about change, something different needs to happen between the couple [… ] even where problems seem intractable, relationship therapy can help individuals identifying new ways of being together as well. Couple counselling can help partners rediscover that closeness and intimacy which originally brought the couple together.
- Counsellor Geoff Boutle MBACP (Snr Accred) .
When we’ve been in a relationship or marriage for a long time, it can be easy to fall into a trap of not listening to the other person, or not communicating our needs clearly. Sometimes talking to someone objectively, with no connection to yourself or your partner, is all it takes for you to gain perspective. What couples counselling offers is the chance to speak to someone with no preconceived notions of who you are as a couple, with the expertise of skilled training behind them to guide you through your concerns.
The overall aim of couples counselling is to help you do the following:
- Understand how external factors such as family values, religion, lifestyle and culture affect your relationship.
- Reflect on the past and how it operates in the present.
- Communicate in a more constructive way.
- Learn why arguments escalate.
- Negotiate and resolve conflicts where possible.
As your counselling sessions progress, you and your partner may find a way of overcoming your problems or decide it’s time to part ways. Either way, counselling will offer you the space to grow and ultimately, decide what you would like the future to hold for both of you.
Common relationship problems
There are many different concerns that might bring you to couples counselling, ranging from a lack of communication to a betrayal or affair.
Some common issues that can be explored through couples counselling include:
- lack of trust
- betrayal or affair
- lack of communication
- financial issues
- work-related stress
- different sexual needs or other sexual issues
- family conflicts
- different goals and values
- different parenting styles
- life changes
This list is not exhaustive and every situation is unique. Whatever your concern is, speaking to a professional is often a helpful step forward.
What training and qualifications should a couples counsellor have?
Whilst there are currently no legal regulations in position to stipulate what level of training a couples counsellor needs, it’s highly recommended that you check the therapist you seek is experienced in couples counselling.
A diploma-level qualification (or equivalent) in couples counselling or a related topic will provide assurance and peace of mind that your counsellor has developed the necessary skills. Another way to assure they have undergone specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation that represents couples counsellors.
When is couples counselling recommended?
Every couple is different, so when you choose to seek help will depend on the nature of the issue you’re facing. If you’re concerned about your relationship and feel you’re unable to reach a conclusion alone, it’s likely that you’ll benefit from couples counselling.
For some, the suggestion of couples counselling is considered a 'last resort' to save a relationship. While this is sometimes the case, you don’t have to wait until things get really bad between you before considering couples therapy. Many couples use therapy sessions as a way to keep their relationship healthy and address any underlying concerns that may become conflicts in the future.
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