Deciding to visit a relationship counsellor can be a daunting prospect. It may feel like you are ‘admitting defeat’ by asking for support with your relationship. Although social, family, and cultural pressures (to name a few) can deter couples from accessing therapy, there is no shame in accessing counselling services. Counselling can be a very positive experience, bringing you closer.
“But We’re Fine – Right?”
One of the misconceptions about couple’s therapy is that it only serves those who are on the brink of separation, or are constantly arguing. In reality, many couples choose to visit a counsellor to talk through their issues in a healthy way. Sometimes, addressing an issue can prevent it from becoming a bigger issue. For example, if you are struggling with conflicting parenting styles, talking through both of your perspectives, and coming to a compromise that suits you both, can help these feelings from turning into resentment.
Dr Sue Johnson, a leading expert in couple’s therapy writes, ‘We can intentionally shape and repair our key relationships and stop paying the price for emotional isolation’.
Choosing to face uncomfortable situations with your partner, may help you bring you closer, and become stronger together.
How does Counselling Help Couples?
Counselling, in general, offers a safe space for clients to express their innermost thoughts and feelings. Most counsellors believe that you are the expert of your own reality. Therefore, rather than instructing or coaching you, a counsellor will help you reflect on your own internal process, offer different perspectives, and respect your autonomy.
Relationship counselling acts in the same way, by providing a neutral ground for couples to air any feelings or grievances they are experiencing.
Janine, a lead counselling trainer for Marriage Care writes, ‘The therapist’s role is to observe, reflect and help clients make sense of emotions, perception and behaviours through this need for connection and to start to communicate that need to one another’.
What Can I Talk About?
No issue is less valuable than another, and whatever it is you wish to discuss will be valid and held within the therapeutic relationship. Some common themes that couples bring to therapy are:
- Sex and attraction
- Communication issues
- Conflicting parenting styles
- ‘Empty nest’ feelings when your children leave home
- Unmet emotional needs
- Families and in-laws
- Power imbalances
This is not a definitive list, and whatever it is that you are struggling with will be met with a respectful and non-judgmental manner.
What to Expect in a Couple’s Counselling Session
Relationship counselling is often client-led, meaning you can choose the topic you wish to speak about. Your counsellor may guide you to topics in order to use the therapeutic space fully, and ask questions which can lead to deeper conversation and processing. This helps to slowly unpick what is happening in the dynamic between you and your partner at a comfortable pace.
It is usual to start with an exploratory session to talk about the things you are experiencing and to help you decide whether counselling is the way forward for you as couple. You would also talk about some practicalities such as the number of sessions you might have, at least to start (typically couples attend between 6 – 12 sessions).
You may also be asked to sign a working ‘contract’ at the beginning of your therapy journey. Contracts are put in place to protect all parties involved and are subject to the organisation or counsellor you go to.
Most contracts outline cases in which the counsellor is legally obligated to widen confidentiality. These may include, but are not limited to:
- Cases where domestic abuse is suspected or disclosed.
- Intent to harm yourself or another.
- Disclosure of serious, illegal activities such as money laundering or terrorism.
- Safeguarding concerns over children or vulnerable adults.
It is common practice in counselling for a counsellor to talk through their sessions with a supervisor in a secure and professional setting. Supervision will not breach your personal privacy, but is used to talk through therapeutic strategies and ensure counsellors are working ethically.
If you have any questions or about the terms of your therapy, don’t be afraid to discuss them with your counsellor.
Relationship counselling can be a very helpful in finding a way through a difficult patch as a couple. It can also be a rewarding experience as you improve your understanding of each other and find new ways to relate.