What if I want to keep my relationship together but my partner does not? -Top 6 things about couple counselling people want to know most: Part 4 of 6:

This is part four of a series addressing the top 6 things people want to know about couples counselling. Quite simply, these are the questions I’m asked most often by those who consider coming for couples counselling. While it is difficult to properly answer such questions in a short series of blogs like this, I’m doing my best. For a list of all six questions, please see part one of this series. This blog addresses the 4th most often asked question: What if I want to keep my relationship together but my partner does not?

 Answer: Before I can answer this question properly I must first point out that the answer below applies to this question being asked in the opposite direction as well: What if I want to leave my relationship but my partner wants to work to keep it together? Secondly, I must first refer you dear reader, back to part three of this series and the idea that it is not the role of a relationship counsellor to try and keep people together. To be effective, it is essential that in the therapeutic endeavour that is couples counselling, the therapist not have a personal agenda he/she is working to move their clients towards. At the same time, it would not be appropriate for any relationship counsellor to side with one member of a relationship over the other and assist that member in persuading the other to go along with their ideas of what is right. This applies whether a client wants a counsellor to persuade their partner to fight to remain in a relationship, or to convince the other that the relationship is over and should be allowed to die gracefully. No, this is not the role of a professional relationship counsellor.

So what can a couples counsellor do when presented with a split agenda such as this? Well, if you were to work with me, we would begin by stepping back from the question about whether the relationship should be saved or not altogether and first work to understand what is going on under the surface to bring people to this point in the first place. In other words: What are the true issues at play, rather than focusing on the behavioural symptoms (please see part two of this series). It is my experience that more often than not, once we have taken some time (usually three or four sessions) to come to this understanding, that one of two things tends to happen:

  1. After coming to a more accurate and fuller understanding of what the relationship is suffering from, the member holding the view that the relationship has come to an end discovers that the painful things they have been experiencing are not as complicated or as difficult to repair as they had believed. (See part one of this series). This realisation can often cause a shift in thinking about the future of the relationship and one more attempt is made.
  2. After coming to a more accurate and fuller understanding of what a relationship is suffering from, the member holding the view that things in the relationship are not that bad and should be saved discovers that the wounds and issues their partner has been describing are actually worse than they’d been acknowledging within themselves. Having then reached this painful conclusion, this too often causes a shift in thinking and they then agree to look at ways to end the relationship with as little pain and fallout as possible.

In either of these scenarios, members of a relationship who begin couples counselling with a split agenda then begin to see things eye to eye. Sometimes this shared perspective is a desire to work together and heal things, while at others it is to work together to find most painless way of moving forward with their individual lives.

Despite what I have just described, I will be honest and say that even after the efforts at understanding and arriving at a shared agenda have been undertaken, there are still times when the initial split agenda remains. Even after coming to an agreement about what has been causing the relationship’s difficulties and an acknowledgement is made that things could be repaired with a bit of effort, one member is quite simply – done. It does not matter that the other is steadfastly holding onto the idea of fighting for the life of the relationship or there is an admission that with a bit of psychological elbow grease things might be brought back to life. The difficult truth deep within their inner self is that they just don’t feel what they need to feel towards the other member any longer – nor do they want to try and bring it back. They simply do not wish to put any more effort than they already have into saving a relationship they no longer wish to be in. In such instances there is little a couples counsellor can do other than help both members come to understand (and eventually accept) the objective reality of the situation. As you will know from reading the previous blogs in this series, it is not the place of a relationship counsellor to convince people they should remain in love with each other. Nor is it to assist one party fulfill their agenda over the other – whatever that agenda might be. In short, in as much as the future of a romantic relationship is concerned for those two people, there is not much a couples counsellor can do.

The next blog in this series addresses the question: In couples counselling, do I have to talk about everything in front of my partner?