Couples Counselling is a part of my job that I have really learned to love. My background in family law meant that I spent 20 years working with clients who were involved in family and relationship breakdowns. These were clients who were in pain, were angry, and often frightened. I would act for one party in the breakdown and it often felt like we were involved in a war.
For this reason, once I qualified as a counsellor I remember saying that I could never imagine working with couples. How could I be impartial when I was so used to taking sides? However, I learned that when the focus is on trying to find a way forward, I can be neutral and look at the difficulties from outside rather than become involved in the war.
I decided to do some additional training as I quickly came to realise that relationships were at the root of what brought most people to individual counselling in one way or another.
The difference between couples counselling and individual counselling is that the relationship is the “client”. I often ask couples to imagine the relationship as an invisible circle on the floor between the 3 of us and that is our focus. I am not a fan of the term “marriage guidance” and that is not what I do. I see couples counselling as a team effort, not me telling them what to do.
So how do I work with you?
I work with you to explore the difficulties in the relationship and help you find your own solutions. It is often the case that if we can improve communication, many of the problems can be resolved. I often say that there are 3 elements which are essential foundations for a healthy relationship. These are communication, compromise and acceptance.
It can be helpful to look at what past experiences you both bring into the relationship, your family backgrounds, previous relationships, friendships and belief systems. For example, how was conflict dealt with within your family when you were growing up? How do you show and feel love? It may be that you speak completely different languages in relation to emotions. You may both have different expectations of what it means to be in a relationship.
We usually agree in the session something for you both to work on together before we meet again. This isn’t really “homework” and is not always possible. If an agreed course of action doesn’t work out it can be helpful for us to talk about what got in the way and look for something different to try.
Sometimes it is not possible to resolve the difficulties that bring a couple to counselling but if that’s the case, we can use the space to try to help ease the separation. My previous experience in working with marriage breakdown and divorce is useful as I understand how important it can be for a couple and their family to try to reduce animosity arising from separation.
My preference is to see both parties together from the outset. It may be that we agree between the 3 of us that on occasions it is appropriate to see one party separately but if possible I will encourage you to talk about all issues in the couples sessions as this will help with communication and resolving difficulties.
Often people come to couples counselling as a last resort, hoping that the therapist will “fix” the relationship. It is not possible for me to fix relationships (I wish that I could). I would encourage people to try couples counselling before they reach this “last resort” point as we are much more likely to be able to find solutions to the difficulties before you are facing imminent separation. If you find that you are arguing, not communicating, have difficulties in your sexual relationship, or have differences in opinion about things such as finances, bringing up a family etc, it can be helpful to discuss these in counselling before the relationship becomes toxic.