Couples and Relationship Therapy
Couples & Relationship Therapy
What is Couples & Relationship Therapy?
Couples therapy is a delicate balancing act where two unique individuals are afforded the opportunity to be heard and understood. The counsellor works to ensure that both parties receive equal time, attention and understanding. In addition, the counsellor works with the couple to improve communication skills, providing them with tools and strategies to assist in navigating issues that previously seemed impassable.
Therapy will look at where the relationship started, reminding the couple of why they came together in the first instance with their hopes, dreams and expectations for a shared life. It will consider the life events which have arisen over the course of the relationship which may have shaken the foundations of their bond. So many times, the link between these cumulative life events and current relationship difficulties are lost in the sadness, hurt and pain of the relationship in crisis. The couple may simply have chosen different means of coping by withdrawing or acting out as a means of signalling distress. Couples therapy raises their awareness of why they may be responding the way they are now.
The counsellor works with the couple to consider what life was like growing up in their individual families, how conflict was resolved, what rules or assumptions existed about roles and responsibilities. Couples therapy looks at the presenting relationship problems, when and where they started, how they have grown and how the couple’s individual communication styles have contributed to derailing the relationship. It also looks at why the couple have chosen now to attend therapy now and what they are hoping for as an outcome.
Commitment to therapy is very important as is emotional honesty, clear communication and a willingness to hear and understand the other person in the relationship. Relationships go through different phases and some bring more challenges than others. Couples therapy balances the past, the present and the future and allows couples to develop a deeper understanding of their areas of conflict and how they respond to them, their strengths, their patterns of interaction. Couples therapy aims to move the couple from “I” to “We” once more and to rebuild trust, intimacy and communication skills.
What will happen in our first Session?
The primary focus in the first session is in gathering information and insight from the couple about what has brought them to couples’ therapy. It allows the counsellor to establish a safe place with clear boundaries regarding behaviour within sessions and provides a space to acknowledge that both parties may be hurt, distressed, angry or just about ready to call time on the relationship, signalling that the relationship is no longer working for them.
The objective is to gain commitment from the couple to participate with an open mind, to be respectful to each other and to communicate honestly with the goal of finding a way forward. As sessions progress, it becomes about supporting individuals within the relationship to acknowledge the part they have contributed to the current difficulties, through their actions, inactions or behaviours. In addition, it raises their awareness and understanding of how their past insecurities or experiences may be impacting on the present, so change is possible and so that distress can be alleviated or resolved. This form of psychotherapy understands that emotional, psychological and interpersonal problems arise within the context of how people experience their life – how they make sense of reality and in their patterns of social engagement and exchange.
Together with the counsellor, client work on understanding how negative patterns have arisen within the relationship and working on developing a plan to resolve them. This is achieved through discussion, reflection and exploration in the sessions and by completing tasks between sessions. Everyone’s voice will be heard in the initial session and thereafter. This helps everyone to understand behaviours and often helps resolve misunderstanding and contention.
What are the limitations of Couples & Relationship Therapy?
Couples and relationship therapy are most effective when a couple are committed to attending therapy and are honest, willing to listen and to make changes to move forward. If one person has already decided to opt out of the relationship or is actively involved in an affair, it may be very difficult to salvage the relationship. The role of the counsellor in this situation may be to support the couple in being honest with each other and to explore how the outstanding issues may be resolved. Some relationships end for all the right reasons but there is still a need to end the relationship appropriately, to learn from past mistakes, acquire new communication skills and this is particularly crucial where co-parenting remains despite the end of the relationship. In this situation, a new relationship needs to be established.
In couples and relationship therapy, the goal of the therapist is not to act as referee or judge or to determine who is right or wrong within the relationship. It is also not the job of the counsellor to ensure a relationship continues at all costs, despite the emotional upset splitting up may cause.
Where both parties willingly enter couples’ therapy as an opportunity to work through issues hoping they can strengthen or repair the relationship and let go of past resentments that are destroying the relationship in the present, a newer more stable base can be established. Couples therapy is focused on improved communication, active listening and a real desire to understand and accept responsibility for what has gone wrong. There is no place for blame, threats, abuse or violence. There is almost nothing that cannot be resolved if both parties are committed to each other and the relationship.
In couples’ therapy, it may emerge that an individual requires specific and individual assistance in resolving issues which are intruding on the relationship or the family. There are many other options available at the Midlands Counselling Clinic, including one-to-one therapy in CBT and Psychodynamic Therapy. Any of these approaches can help you address your contribution to relationship issues without having to involve the other partner.