A couple’s system is developed over time and is how a couple functions as a whole. They are not coming to sessions as two individuals, but as a pair and it is on the relationship that the counsellor must focus to bring growth and healing.
Couples may come to counselling with no clear sense of the underlying issues that are causing friction within their couple system. Both are attending bringing with them their own family history, which may differ from one another and thus cause conflict between them.
Sometimes the causes of conflict are obvious, at other times they can be obscure. For example, most homes have family occasions that bring members together; these can often cause distress if a member is absent due to an argument or disagreement. These feelings can be difficult to dismiss as the missing person will always linger, in both a conscious and subconscious sense. They can even affect future generations as the person ‘nobody ever talks about’. Family secrets may have a similar effect; something has happened that causes devastation - when this is not discussed, it leaves unresolved emotions which can also impact upon the couple’s relationship.
Until these important issues are brought out into the open, examined and addressed, the couple system will be affected. A couples counsellor will provide a safe environment in which the couple can disclose private information without fear of judgement. The counsellor’s role is to then remain impartial, while still encouraging the pair to work on discovering the cause of and resolving, their conflict/s.
It is however appropriate for a counsellor to gently challenge each of the couple to justify any beliefs and assumptions about the relationship or their partner. This is an effective tool in resolving friction and resentment that may exist between the two.
Even in the event of one or both of the couple electing to end the relationship, couples counselling can assist in achieving a gentler ending by preparing each of the individuals for life outside the partnership. This can help prevent the devastation and loss that many people experience at the end of a relationship.
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