It’s not you, it’s us – working on relationship issues

People often start relationship counselling with a whole list of things their partner is doing wrong: she does this, he does that, they always…,  if only they’d change then the relationship would be better and so on.  Many can be reluctant to accept their part in the problem, especially with issues like infidelity, and just want the therapist to agree with them, ganging up with them against the other person.  


A good starting point to sorting out problems is accepting that the issue is with the relationship rather than the individuals within it: just changing the language from “the problem is with you” to “the problem is with us” can help refocus thinking and help people work together to overcome problems. When things feel overwhelming then there are a number of steps that can help to diffuse the tension and allow people to start making meaningful, lasting change.

Stop the toxicity

Take responsibility for your own part in what’s going on, the way you react in arguments, the things you might do to wind your partner up. We can all get caught in negative cycles, the arguments we have over and over again, but a good first step is to stop these by changing our behaviour.

Notice the things we keep doing like not talking for days after an argument, name calling, any sort of aggression, physical or verbal, so that the other person feels unsafe, or threatening to leave or end the relationship. Sometimes we can include other people in our disputes by arguing in front of other people, involving other family members in our rows, especially if we are a blended family, and this can lead to one partner feeling unwelcome in the home.  

When we take responsibility for these sorts of behaviours we can agree on a way to stop them, maybe by agreeing a timeout, or acknowledging to each other that we’re entering our familiar pattern and we want to stop it.  

Listening to our partner

This can seem so obvious but if we’re arguing we can spend time preparing what we want to say next rather than listening and responding to what they are saying.  A good way to do this is to repeat back what you think they’ve said: “Did I understand this right? You’re saying…..”  If we’re trying to make our relationship better we need to know what the other person is thinking rather than just assuming we know what they think.

End tit-for-tat arguing

When we’re working on our relationship the focus isn’t on one person being in the right but rather that something within the relationship isn’t working properly. If our partner accuses us of doing, or not doing, something it can be easy to become defensive and respond by saying “well, yes but you…..” The point isn’t to end up on top, the person who is less responsible, but to examine what’s happening and why.  

Identify the problem

It really helps if you can agree what the core problem is between you and whether you both think it’s the same issue. Couples can often be arguing about things they see differently.

Once you have been able to identify the problem, a good exercise is to sit down and brainstorm what your relationship would look like if your problem went away, didn’t exist anymore. What would your relationship look like then? Could you then work together towards achieving this imagined ideal life? What things could you change now to get there?

Remember why you got together

When we’re in the middle of a stormy patch it can be hard to remember why you ended up with your partner. It can be useful to talk about how you met and what attracted you to each other, the qualities you saw in the other person, to move away from your negative feelings.

When things aren’t going well it’s so easy to focus on all the down sides, maybe even thinking you’d be better off on your own. So, looking at what your partner brings to the relationship, their good qualities, the things you admire about them can help diffuse the tension.

How can I show them I love them

Ask yourself what you can do to show your partner that you love and care for them. It doesn’t have to be an expensive present (though I’m not against the odd diamond ring) but what will make their life better and brighter, make them feel more appreciated?  

If someone is tired, offering to run a bath for them might make all the difference, or cooking dinner, or looking after the kids so they can lie on the sofa. Maybe your partner just needs words of appreciation, hard I know if they’ve been getting on your nerves, but being thanked for what they have done can help change the interactions between you. If you’re not sure what they’d like or need then maybe have a conversation so you can work it out together.   

Get some help

Finally, and inevitably, reach out for some professional help. Couples counselling can make a real difference to your relationship, having someone neutral to listen to you, ask questions, can add a totally new dimension to your relationship. It can enable you to talk openly about the issues within your relationship and maybe say things you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying when you are alone with your partner.  

If both you and your partner want to make things better then these suggestions can really help. When you’re both committed to making the relationship work and have that as your focus small changes can make a huge difference.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Exeter EX1 & Colyton EX24
Written by Charlotte Feeny, Counsellor MBACP BSc (Hons) Dip Couns
Exeter EX1 & Colyton EX24

A fully qualified and highly experienced couples counsellor working face to face in Exeter and East Devon, also online.


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