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Relationship counselling - just where do we go from here?

One trend which often appears after any holiday period is the increase in the number of couples seeking relationship counselling. This pattern repeats throughout the year - whenever people spend long periods together there can sometimes be some unexpected friction.

Perhaps this is not so surprising. If irritating friends, annoying family members, and copious amounts of alcohol are combined at a time when diversions such as work are removed, the result can be a potentially combustible mix. Of course, many couples will welcome time together. For others, there can be tensions which filter through into reflections on the state of the relationship. Those few days with niggling arguments may be regarded as just a difficult time to be ignored. Occasionally, however, one within the couple will see this discord as heralding the beginning of the end. There is an apprehension that things are not right and a growing view that this relationship is not meant to last.

If that gloomy view becomes established, then the relationship may indeed be under threat. Yet there are alternative viewpoints that can be taken. One approach is to regard this discordant note as providing an early warning that all is not well within the relationship. Conflict can be seen as an indication that there are issues to be resolved; it can be seen as a call for action.

This sudden concern about the state of the relationship may be heard with confusion and incomprehension, particularly if different views are held about the strength of the emotional bond. There can be genuine puzzlement from the partner who may be quite satisfied with the status quo. "What’s wrong? I don’t understand what you are saying. What has happened to us? Where do we go from here?".

It is at this time that relationship counselling may prove useful to the couple. Underneath that alarming exclamation of "what has happened to us?" can lie some fundamental fault lines which remain hidden during day to day to day life and yet are exposed by the demands of those enforced days together during a holiday period.

Communication, sex, and money are often cited as three key triggers which bring couples into the therapy room. Certainly, communication can become problematic, particularly if one feels that their partner has just stopped listening. The challenge can then be around how to re-engage. It is at that time when it may be helpful to consider relationship counselling. The counselling room could be a safe place in which the couple can try to explore some of these incredibly difficult issues.

Communication challenges are usually amongst the first concerns to be tackled. But if couples counselling work is to see an open conversation around communication issues within the relationship, it will also require some early commitment to the process. That is not just in terms of time and fees, but also an emotional commitment.

The therapy room can be a demanding place, particularly if one half of the couple is less enthusiastic about coming into counselling than the other partner. The effectiveness of relationship counselling, as with other forms of therapy, is dependent on the development of a good relationship between the couple and the counsellor. Sufficient trust between clients and counsellor needs to develop quickly in the room for what counsellors call a 'therapeutic alliance' to emerge.

Effective couple counselling involves risk-taking on all sides. It certainly requires an investment from the couple, but it can prove to be a significant investment well worth making given the importance of what is at stake.

The answers to that question of "where do we go from here?" will vary for each couple. If the difficulties are too great and if the divergence is too entrenched, one pathway may still eventually lead to solicitors, lawyers, and separation. A second outcome could be stepping back from the formal break. This may provide time for further reflection, a breathing space - albeit with some simmering discontent. Another more positive and optimistic outcome can see the emergence of a stronger, more sensitive, and more caring relationship.

Couple counselling is sometimes viewed as a last resort for a relationship in crisis. Alternatively, a more upbeat approach can be adopted. Relationship counselling may help to strengthen an important bond which, despite some recent turbulence, already has a rich and rewarding history. Couple counselling can be regarded as a constructive step towards strengthening a key emotional partnership.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Geoff Boutle MBACP (Snr Accred)

Geoff Boutle is a BACP senior accredited therapist working in private practice in Chichester and West Sussex.… Read more

Written by Geoff Boutle MBACP (Snr Accred)

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