Couples counselling isn’t complicated.
It’s a specific form of talking therapy where two people sit down with a counsellor to talk about their relationship.
The world seemed surprised when Michelle Obama shared with the world that she and Barack had couples counselling. Surely this couple didn’t have relationship problems! So if you’re thinking of having couples counselling, you’re in good company.
This time of COVID19 has brought its particular challenges. Being locked up with someone for much more extended periods that would ordinarily be typical of your relationship can mean that the cracks begin to show.
Endings or New Beginnings?
When a couple comes to therapy, it signifies an end of the relationship. This doesn’t mean that the couple is going to separate. They might do. But it might also be a symbolic death; the death of what the relationship has been, which opens the way to a new beginning.
The core of couple counselling is to help couples to face the painful and often bitter reality of this change. It’s almost inescapable to avoid the pain of disappointment when you realise that your relationship isn’t as good as you believed it to be. When you’ve put your relationship on a pedestal, just thinking about letting go of what you have idolised and adored hurts.
More often than not, conflict is usually involved. And that’s when couples show up in the therapy room.
Getting To Know You
Couple counselling is an opportunity to get to know yourself, your partner and your relationship better.
Everyone enters into a relationship carrying the unconscious patterns and beliefs that they’ve internalised from being their parents’ child. As a result, our relationships reactivates old wounds from childhood.
Although we might not realise or want to admit it, we, therefore, enter a relationship seeking the perfect parent to fit our unmet needs. We unconsciously look for our mother or father! Couples counselling looks at how these past influences impact your intimate relationships and support you and your partner to see and take responsibility for your projections and transference.
Projection is when we hand over and refuse to acknowledge the parts of us we don’t like. Instead, we make those qualities about the other person. For example, you suppress your anger but keep finding yourself in relationships with passive-aggressive or overtly angry partners.
Transference is different in that we are making our partner be some other significant person in our life, e.g. a parent. So say you craved being protected and cared for by a parent as a child. As an adult, you may well substitute, choose and expect your partner to do that.
You find yourself getting frustrated with their lack of care when you are ill, not helping with the children or when you’ve had a bad day at work. On the other hand, if you were frequently criticised as a child, you will likely be highly sensitive to your partner’s criticism.
Of course, you want a supportive partner, but what’s really going on?
New Couple New Skills
Couple counselling helps you to get to the heart of the matter.
Childhood feelings of abandonment, suppression or neglect will often arise in a marriage or committed relationship.
The therapy helps you both understand what pushes each other’s buttons. Of course, most couples are exceptionally skilled at knowing which buttons to push. What might not be so clear is those buttons are connected to a younger part of the self that is triggered.
But with couples counselling, you learn to empathise, listen, see what is currently happening in your relationship, and be clear about what you would like to be different and work out what you want and support you to do that.
In couples counselling, you gain new perspectives about each other and how you relate. You’ll also learn new ways of being together. Importantly couples counselling includes ‘skills work’ such as Harville Hendrix’s Imago Dialogue to help you do something different, improve conscious communication between you, and help you explore your feelings and thoughts with your partner.
This Therapy Isn’t Working.
Everything is information about your relationship in couples counselling! It’s not just about what you say.
Sometimes, however, the therapy feels as if it isn’t working. But actually what’s likely happening is that it’s mirroring back to you the way your relationship is functioning on a day to day basis.
Having said that there are some times, however, when couples counselling isn’t appropriate, and or you feel continually stuck.
Here are three examples of when that happens:
1. Domestic Abuse
You might think that this is the perfect time to come to therapy because it will help you work out your issues and reduce or prevent further incidents.
Sadly this isn’t the case.
One of the critical components of any counselling, whether it be for an individual or couple counselling is safety. If your relationship is abusive outside of the therapy room, it will be abusive in it.
The abused partner mightn’t speak up for fear of what the abusive partner might do when they get home. Alternatively, something is said, which has the same impact out of sight of the therapist. The couple may discuss and agree on what gets talked in the session before they arrive for therapy.
What can also happen is the abused partner wants the therapist to guess what is not being said, which the therapist may or may not do if there is covert abuse. This all means that the therapy isn’t safe.
If there is domestic violence in the relationship, the best thing to do is contact a domestic abuse agency such as Refuge and get specialist support for yourself. In the first instance, that might be individual counselling. I would suggest doing that first as your safety is the priority.
2.When The Couples Keeps Secrets In Counselling
Part of couples counselling is the therapist seeing and understanding how clients operate in their day-to-day world. A client who’s being dishonest in their life will tend to bring that into the therapy room.
In her book Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman writes about the ‘fundamental rule of truth-telling.’ (1)
Truth-telling forms the basis of a solid collaborative relationship with the therapist. As much as they constellate feelings of betrayal in relationship, secrets and lies get in the way of healing.
When truth-telling is hard, shame, trauma and vulnerability are inevitably in the background. To avoid that vulnerability, one or both one or both of the couple may terminate the therapy sessions early and refuse to continue. This withdrawal may well replicate what happens at home when there is conflict.
Sometimes a client might lie by behaving very differently in a session to how their partner experiences them at home, control what is said in the session or avoid answering questions directly by deflecting.
So that couples counselling can help you identify and unravel your feelings and see the related issues more clearly, honesty is critical. Without the truth, it is impossible to do this.
3. When You Want To Be The Therapist
Usually, one part of the couple feels that the problem belongs to the other person. ‘You’re the reason why the relationship isn’t working.’
When you blame the other, you might want to take the opportunity to practice your therapy skills. Now there are two therapists in the room!
Couple counselling is about exploring the wounds from the past and, how these have shaped you and therefore your relationship. But we all have wounds. In a relationship, both parts of the relationship, i.e. you AND your partner bring something to the table. Sometimes you can pull the wool over your own eyes, not wanting to acknowledge your part.
Couples counselling isn’t about getting one half of the couple to do the work, the other watching and then hoping everything will be alright. It won’t. That gives control to one person in the relationship because now their action controls the relationship’s fate. What it also means is that the opportunity for growth in the relationship missed.
The Long Road
Couple counselling isn’t complicated, but it is challenging. It takes time, and it’s not the quick route.
A couples therapist isn’t there to make you stay together or tell you what to do. But if you are willing and committed to each other and to doing something differently, couples therapy is a great way to deepen your connection with yourself and your partner.
Over To You
Are you struggling with letting go? If you want a safe space to discuss and explore your relationship with couples counselling, get in touch, and book your first counselling appointment. I offer video sessions online via a secure platform. Coronavirus (COVID-19) doesn’t need to put your therapy sessions on pause.
Or call me today on 07535 864836.
Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. PASS IT ON
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© Sandra Harewood 2021
Soul Centred couples counsellor Sandra Harewood specialises in working with couples and women with childhood wounding that impacts their adult relationships. Sandra provides a soulful space for her clients to explore creative solutions to their difficulties and create a great relationship.
(1) Herman, J, Trauma and Recovery – The Aftermath of Violence From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, 1997 Basic Books