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Relationships, Valentine’s day and couples counselling

At the beginning of February each year, a standard item of US political theatre is the State of the Union address which the President presents to Congress. At a similar time in the UK, the onset of Valentine’s Day is an encouragement for some to turn their attention to another, rather more personal state of the union. This is the union, or rather the relationship, with their partner.

Advertisers will always encourage expectations of an ideal relationship. The usual hype around Valentine’s Day will involve soft lights, romantic meals in candlelit restaurants followed by synchronised, satisfying lovemaking within an aura of mutual bliss. Yet for many, the reality may be rather different.

It may well be that for some, Valentine’s Day will provoke critical scrutiny of the current relationship. Over time, idealised dreams can slip away to be replaced by something at best mundane and at worst destructive. Yet before the mundane starts to give way to something worse, perhaps a measured review of the relationship could actually be helpful to both partners. Much will depend on those ongoing expectations.

For partners who are insisting that the fairytale of romance must always outshine the humdrum of everyday life, there is an understandable concern. If sex does not end in mutual orgasms, if the children do not show early signs of virtuosity, and if the house is not the pristine castle on the hill, then there are indeed issues to be addressed if these are the standards by which at least one of the couple judges the success of the relationship.

A state of the union discussion can provide an opportunity to bring some realism into play before disillusionment starts to become too divisive and very real splits occur. Yet to have a measured reflective review of ‘just where have we got to’ can be challenging, particularly if the relationship has been put under recent strain. To have a candid and yet caring discussion can be fraught if one of them has a louder voice and a more assertive way of being. If conversations of this type have proved difficult in the past, perhaps some further support is required. It may be that such a discussion could be helped by the inclusion of some form of moderation.

That may be where the input from an experienced relationship counsellor can be useful. Couples counselling, if embraced at the right time, can provide a supportive framework which may help both parties to speak out. Perhaps even more importantly, relationship counselling may allow each to feel that they have been heard.

The aim of couples counselling depends upon the needs of each unique couple. Sometimes the work in the room enables both parties to recognise once again that special someone that they still want to value but have perhaps lost sight of. This discussion, when moderated by a relationship counsellor, allows an opportunity for some fog to be blown away and ideas to be explored as to how the relationship can be reinvigorated. Yet couples counselling has to also be realistic. On occasion, there may be an eventual recognition that too much time has gone by and it becomes clear that the relationship is damaged beyond repair.

At the very least, the space created in the counselling room allows each individual to explore whether for them the relationship is good enough. And if that ‘good enough’ phrase sounds somewhat half-hearted, that is certainly not the intention. Good professional, experienced counsellors will at some time in their training have studied the writings of expert therapist DW Winnicott, and his perceptive references within a work called ‘Playing and Reality’ to the importance of being ‘good enough’.

That phrase referred to another type of relationship, but the meaning can be carried across to encompass intimate adult relationships. Of course, the ideal relationship is wonderful, and those understandable dreams of perfection can fire imaginations, particularly when setting out with a new partner.

Yet the realities of life are likely to have an impact on those expectations. Perhaps after the buffeting of unexpected financial challenges, the sleepless nights sitting with children, those irritating arguments with in-laws and the remorseless need to stay employed through a succession of never-ending, wet, cold Monday mornings, it is not surprising that for some that those dreams can become a little frayed.

In that case, if the eventual outcome of that personal state of the union conversation with your partner is that despite all the difficult challenges, the relationship is still ‘good enough’, then perhaps that is actually a really strong achievement. And if so, maybe this should be seen as something to be recognised and celebrated, possibly even on Valentine’s Day.

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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