Couples Counselling can be of huge benefit to any relationship, regardless of the nature or severity of your problems. Some of the major ways in which couples counselling can benefit your relationship is in the areas of:-
– improved communication,
– revitalizing your emotional connection and
– re-negotiating your commitments.
Couples generally come to couples counselling when they realize that their relationship is in some kind of trouble. Some times the problem is so significant, or has been left unattended for so long, that the relationship is already in severe crisis. At other times, the couple becomes aware at an earlier stage that they are not able to resolve their problems on their own, and that they need the help of a relationship counsellor before their relationship hits crisis point and heads to dissolution.
No relationship is ever entirely smooth sailing. Sometimes the problems are overtly present form the beginning of the relationship, sometimes they surface after a long time of being together, or as a result of unexpected stresses. Whatever trouble your relationship is in, and no matter how severely your relationship is being affected, almost all couples can benefit from couples or relationship counselling at some time in their relationship.
WHAT IS RELATIONSHIP COUNSELLING?
In order to understand how relationship counselling can benefit your relationship, it is first important to understand what couples counselling is and why couples attend. In short, relationship counselling happens with a professional counsellor, psychologist or therapist and is primarily focused on helping a couple resolve problems or issues that may be plaguing them or causing distress between them. Although we tend to think of relationship counselling as being limited to romantic relationships, it can also include other family relationships, friendships and work relationships.
In some cases, the issues are substantial, like chronic or constant fighting, discovering that an affair happened or struggling with differences in sexual desire. In other cases, a couple may attend relationship counselling to help them make decisions about a particular aspect of their relationship (like where to live, whether to get married or whether to have a baby). Sometimes couples come to relationship counselling as a way of understanding each other better and making a more informed decision about a long term commitment.
Many couples find themselves choosing relationship counselling as a method of helping themselves through difficult periods when the relationship may be going through a development phase of contraction or expansion and how they relate to each other may be shifting and changing.
WHY GO TO COUPLES COUNSELLING?
The primary benefits of couples counselling include:-
1. improving the way you communicate with one another, reducing the number and intensity of your arguments, enhancing your understanding of each other’s needs and reactions
2. revitalizing lost intimacy and restoring a sense of loving connection in your relationship
3. helping a couple to negotiate or re-negotiate commitments.
Each of these benefits is considered in greater detail below.
IMPROVED COMMUNICATION & UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN THE COUPLE
A relationship is made up of individuals, and as individuals, we bring our own personal history, personality, needs, hopes and desires to our relationships. As a result, even the most exceptional couple will never see eye to eye on every issue. To be able to come together and share our lives (or an aspect of our lives) with another human being, there will always be the need for discussion, compromise and negotiation.
Our ability to communicate with our partner – to share our own needs and fears, and to listen properly to their needs and fears – is therefore an essential tool for any healthy relationship. A qualified couples or relationship counsellor is trained to recognise and challenge your current communication habits, and to teach you how to communicate more effectively with one another. Often, just being encouraged to talk openly and honestly during your couples counselling session can already set you on the path to more open and calmer communication.
Strong communication skills (talking and listening) will allow you to resolve problems big and small, and will help keep your relationship strong even during times of severe stress.
REJUVENATING YOUR EMOTIONAL CONNECTION AND RESTORING LOST INTIMACY
The early stages of a new relationship are generally filled with emotional intensity, strong sexual desire for each other, and feelings of warmth and generosity towards one another. During this ‘honeymoon period’, couples often want to spend much of their time together bonding. They are amazed at how close they become and their attraction to each other is very strong. However, as the relationship progresses and becomes more familiar, the daily grind tends to interfere with our love affair and we may begin to lose our feelings of connectedness. Perhaps we don’t spend as much quality time together as we used to, or maybe we are too tired to enjoy each other sexually. Or perhaps we are simply allowing minor irritations about our partner’s habits get in the way of our deeper feelings. Whatever the cause, lost intimacy and feelings of agitation towards each other are not uncommon amongst couples who have been together for an extended period of time.
Indeed, long term couples often find that they actually need to spend less time together in order to restore their sense of themselves as individuals again. This process commonly recurs from time to time during a relationship – a couple may go through many different periods where they come together and then pull apart to become individuals again. This process of separation may take the form of an emotional separation, or it might be more practical – one member of the couple might decide to study again, embark on a new career, or pursue a new interest. One way to think of this is as a pulsating circle. As the circle of the couple comes together and intensifies the pulse becomes brighter. But from time to time, the couple needs a breather and pulls apart in order to recharge and reconnect with themselves, only to be drawn back together again.
Whist this process of coming together and then pulling apart to individuate is a normal developmental phase of any relationship it can place enormous pressure on the relationship. A qualified relationship or couples counsellors can help a couple understand each other through this process and also help restore lost emotional and physical closeness.
HOW CAN RELATIONSHIP COUNSELLING HELP US NEGOTIATE COMMITMENTS?
One of the most problematic areas for couples can be focused on commitment. Commitments can take many shapes and forms, including a commitment to the relationship itself, a commitment to having children or a commitment to supporting a particular career choice or life path. We all have fears and concerns about making commitments on some level. Working with a relationship or couples counsellor can assist both members of the couple voice their concerns and fears about what the commitment will mean to them and how it may change their relationship.
One of the ways in which a counsellor or psychologist can be of assistance is to not only help with airing concerns and fears, but also in negotiating responsibilities that may arise as a result of making a new commitment within the relationship. For example, if a couple decides together that one of them will begin new studies in order to pursue a new career path, that may change family and home maintenance responsibilities for both of them. Working with a professional relationship counsellor can help the couple to reach clear and workable agreements.
TORI AND EMILY’S STORY
Tori and Emily have been together as a couple for almost 10 years. While they love each other dearly and have committed to raising Emily’s daughter, Stacy, together, they both feel as if they are drifting in the relationship. One night as Emily is preparing for bed, she realises that she is actually looking forward to a time when she has the house to herself and does not have to worry about Tori’s work intruding on her. As she realises that what she really wants is to reclaim some space and time to herself, Emily suggests that she and Tori attend relationship counselling to help them negotiate some changes in their relationship. Emily is clear that she does not want the relationship to end, but she does want some changes in how she and Tori spend their time together. She also knows that if she brings the topic up with Tori on her own, Tori will spin into her own insecurities and it will blow up into a big fight between them.
With the help of a relationship counsellor, Emily is able to talk to Tori calmly and clearly about what she needs for herself and why she needs it. She is able to talk to Tori about needing an outlet for her own emotional needs and a source of emotional growth that she can then bring back to the relationship and share with Tori. Emily is able to clearly state to Tori that she loves Tori, but that she needs to find her way to herself again. Even more importantly, the couples counsellor helps Tori to be able to really hear Emily’s needs, and actually empathise with her. In this way, she is able to see Emily’s desire for some separation as a personal need that Emily has, and not as a reflection on her.
HOW DO WE FIND RELATIONSHIP COUNSELLING HELP?
If you and your partner feel you would benefit from relationship counselling or you are eager to learn how to connect more deeply and emotionally, you may find that talking with a professional counsellor, psychologist or therapist may be helpful.
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