I am sure most of you reading this will have heard or indeed know someone who has been to
‘Marriage Guidance’. I am also sure that a great many people will have no real idea as to what takes place when couples seek help with their relationship by employing a therapist for couples counselling. I hope that during this brief blog to demystify the process of couples counselling by giving some explanation as to what goes on during a couples counselling session.
It is little wonder, in my opinion, why couples soon find themselves in difficulty when they embark on a serious relationship. In the main, two comparative strangers decide that there is an attraction resulting in them wanting to spend increasing amount of time in each other’s company. When, for example, you take into consideration that each individual is highly likely to come to the relationship with their own particular life script, moral compass, value system and expectations as to what a healthy relationship looks like. Then throw into the mix each partner’s extended family along with perhaps some children there is potential ample opportunity for things to go wrong!
Let me begin by stating one fact that couples counselling is not necessarily fixing the relationship by helping to repair the current fractured partnership. It is not uncommon for certain couples to accept their current relationship is over and they want to embark on therapy to gain a sense of closure; to navigate a good ending; to provide each individual to move on with their lives with a minimum of disharmony and incrimination.
Perhaps more common is when two people decide to come to therapy realising their relationship has run into difficulty and they want to try and improve their current situation. When couples come wanting to improve their relationship there are several common factors that tend to contribute to the relationship breaking down.
Why people attend for couples counselling, include:
1. Poor communication – each individual will follow their own individual script taking no time
to listen or an attempt to understand their partner’s counter argument. These particular
transactions follow their own individual pattern usually played out within therapy. The role
of the therapist at this juncture is to break the pattern by reflecting with each individual is
actually trying to convey.
2. Poor levels of intimacy – often couples come into therapy believing that their relationship
better depicts a lodger and tenant. The original spark they experienced when they first met
has long evaporated. Often work or financial pressure can lead to this. The therapist can
then begin to reintroduce a level of intimacy often by the couple beginning to touch each
other again and maybe arranging a ‘date night.
3. Differing expectations – each couple will usually have their own individual expectation as to
where their relationship should be at as their time together grows. This may include, for
example, a particular standard of living, career progression or children. Each individual will
have their own unique blue print largely based on their own parent’s model of relationship
and general family dynamics. It is important therefore that each partner becomes aware of
how their own parents interacted. Perhaps they were in a family unit where parents where
avoidant or, conversely, argued about everything. It is common during therapy for the
therapist have an separate session with each individual to ascertain what they had learnt
from their own parents. This would then be discussed with everyone back in the room
during the next session.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but gives a general view what takes place in couples
counselling. Deciding to begin couples counselling certainly need not be seen as a failure. It can enhance a relationship and there are occasions when it can even be enjoyable.
Ian Burman is an integrative counsellor and partner of Phoenix Counselling, specialising in working with couples and family counselling.