Is couples counselling for us?
- Communication is poor
- We are dealing with grief, illness, financial issues
- We ‘just don’t connect anymore’
- There is a lack of trust and/or respect in our relationship
- Our lives are in transition
- There is no intimacy
- One or both of us want to separate
Does couples counselling work?
Couples therapy, like individual therapy, works for many people. The critical issue in couples therapy is for each person to trusts that the therapist is there for them. It is essential that both people feel safe – that their values, needs and issues are treated with respect by the therapist and that they will be heard by their partner.
Couples therapy doesn’t work if one person lacks confidence or doesn’t feel safe in the process. As in individual therapy, sometimes this means couples need to ‘try out’ a few therapists before they find the one that suits them best.
One of the key differences between individual therapy and couples or marriage counselling is that the client in couples therapy is the relationship, not the two people.
Saving the relationship at all costs is not the goal of therapy. The aim of the therapist is to facilitate a conversation that helps both people decide which is the best way forward for the relationship – this often means pain for one or both of the parties.
The decision may be to work on improving and growing the relationship, take a ‘break’ from it, or end the relationship. Whatever the outcome, the therapist supports the couple to move forward with the decision and helps them recognise the impact on all stakeholders (including children, parents, friends) of whatever decision is made.
Common issues that bring people to couples therapy
- Major life changes – jobs, infertility, births, deaths, children leaving home
- Issues with finances
- Infertility issues
- Communication issues
- Mental health issues both present and past
- Difficulties at the beginning of the relationship
- Years of habitual behaviours that have left one, or both people feeling lonely, frustrated or unloved.
Emotional Focused Couples Therapy
I work with the model of Emotional Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) developed by Sue Johnson in the 80s. EFT is one of the best validated couples interventions. I completed a four-day externship in this program with Sue Johnson in Canada in 2014.
EFT is an approach that focuses on how people deal with their emotions, how they send emotional signals to their partner, and how these emotions interact in the ‘dance’ of the relationship.
EFT is an attachment-oriented approach that assumes we all have deep needs for safe connection and emotional contact. When these needs are not met, we get stuck in negative interactional patterns in our relationships.
In this approach we look at habitual negative patterns to discover what lies underneath. The arguing about parenting or washing the dishes may in fact be more about feeling unsafe and unloved. Therapy helps couples identify and name their own emotional needs and learn to communicate them effectively and honestly to their partner.
We haven’t been in the relationship very long and we are having problems – it seems too early to go to a couples counsellor.
It is never too early or too late to seek support in couples therapy. Every person, and therefore every couple, is unique and problems come up at different times in the life of the relationship.
One advantage of seeing a couples therapist before there is a total collapse in the relationship is that it gives people tools to better manage stress, disappointments and the challenges that every relationship encounters. The other advantage of coming early is that people may make the decision that this isn’t the right relationship for either of them, avoiding years of pain.
It is never too late to see a couples therapist, even if you have been married many years and things feel stale or too difficult. Couples therapy may give you both the chance to find new energy, love and acceptance in your relationship. On the other hand, therapy may help you get support in a safe respectful environment to find a way to say goodbye with love.
We have tried therapy before and it doesn’t work.
There are many reasons why therapy doesn’t work for couples. The most common are that the therapist is not a good match for the couple, one partner doesn’t feel heard, one or both people are not ready, willing and open to engage in the process. In some cases it is too late for any intervention.
There are many more factors to consider in couples work than individual therapy – even the logistics of getting busy couples together regularly can be difficult.
Usually one person initiates the therapy and sometimes the other feels ‘like a prisoner’ which makes meaningful work difficult. It is not easy for two people who are ready and open for the work to find a therapist that they both feel comfortable with at a time they can both manage. But couples do this all the time – intimate relationships are the core of our well being and nurturing and growing these relationships should be a priority for us all.
If you have tried therapy before, go back to a therapist you trusted or try someone new. Couples therapy takes the commitment of two people and sometimes that just isn’t possible. In that case, it may be useful to see a therapist on your own and possibly later your partner will reconsider.
I want a divorce and my partner wants to stay – it’s too late.
Sometimes it is too late to save a relationship but couples therapy can still be helpful as it can support both people as they manage their way out of the relationship with as much love and respect as is possible.
Other times when it appears that it is too late it is just the beginning of finding a new way to see, hear and understand the other. Couples therapy is a dynamic process that encourages and uncovers new ways of thinking, seeing and being in relationship to another. Nothing is static if you are engaging in the therapeutic process – often the outcome surprises all three participants.
Get a fresh perspective on your relationship.
If you are interested in scheduling an initial appointment please contact me.