What is couples counselling? – Top 6 things people want to know about couples counselling: Part 1 of 6

This series of blogs will address 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 Relationship counselling. While it is difficult to properly answer such questions in a short series of blogs like this, I’ll do my best. Firstly though, let’s look at these questions that I’m regularly asked:

  1. What is couples counselling exactly?
  2. How does couples (or relationship) counselling differ from individual counselling?
  3. Is couples counselling designed to keep people together?
  4. What if I want to keep my relationship together and my partner does not?
  5. In couples counselling, do I have to talk about everything in front of my partner?
  6. How long does couples counselling take?

Each of the six parts of this series will address one of these questions. In this blog, we’ll look at: What is couples counselling exactly?

Answer: At its most simple definition, couples counselling is what it says on the label. It is a therapeutic endeavour attended by both members of a relationship for the purpose of discussing/resolving various issues within that relationship that are causing prolonged pain or unhappiness. Importantly, from my perspective (and certainly what you will find if you come for couples counselling with me), the goal is not to just negotiate and agree simple behavioural changes. Rarely is it enough for one party in relationship counselling to promise “I’ll never do that again”, or for both to say “Let’s just draw a line under this and try harder next time”. No, by the time people reach the stage where they are seeking professional assistance, they’ve usually made these promises and drawn those lines many times and now it is clear that something more is needed.

This something more is a change in looking at and understanding what the true real issues are in the first place. I do not deny the pain of a couple’s circular arguments, repeated failed attempts at change, lack of sexual intimacy and the nagging awareness that a connection that was once experienced as deep passion has shifted over time into the “friend-zone”. At the same time, it is likely that these painful experiences are merely symptoms of the true issues, rather than being the issues themselves. For that reason, instead of focusing on behavioural changes and promises for the future, effective couples counselling is a process that helps you reach a place where you not only understand each other in new (and probably more accurate) ways, but also the underlying dynamics that drive your difficulties. Almost without fail, whenever we understand something in a new (and more accurate) way, an immediate benefit is that our attitudes about that thing shift too. It is this shift in attitudes that creates movement in a relationship’s dynamics and this is usually followed by behavioural changes that happen by almost by themselves. When that happens, heartfelt promises mentioned above are no longer needed.

Key here is the idea that once we understand the nature of the causes of the difficulties in our relationships, we then find ourselves changing our behaviour, responses and reactions because “we want to”, and not because “we have to”. Of course, it does not take a rocket scientist to recognise that any changes in a person’s behaviour that are made because they want to change them are far more likely to stand the tests of time over those that are made because they feel pressured into them. In the second blog in this series I will address the question: How does couples counselling differ from individual counselling?