The terms used in the field of psychological support can be confusing. Couple therapy, couples counselling, relationship therapy or counselling all refer to what was once termed (and sometime still is) marriage guidance counselling.
Many relationship therapists will tell you that couples come to seek help only when their relationship problems have become intolerable. Too often it’s as a result of a crisis such as an affair or the threat of separation that a couple will contemplate involving a therapist.
Maintaining a healthy, growing and loving relationship takes work. Too often we have a tendency to assume that the love and attraction that brings us together will be enough without tending to our relationship as if were an entity that needs care and support itself.
HOW THE PROCESS WORKS
The first step in the process is that I meet the couple either in person or online. I have taken a number of couples through a successful term of therapy online – which was far less common before the pandemic made it impossible or difficult to meet in person.
At this first session I’ll try to help the couple come to an understanding of the problem and agree what that is. For therapy to be successful, a consensus on what has caused the difficulties can be critically important.
Sometimes I might then suggest meeting both parties individually to find out more about their histories and how they feel about the relationship without the partner in the room. This can be helpful where communication and trust has broken down to such an extent that some privacy is needed before I continue working with the couple. In many cases we will continue the work with both partners present.
Once the underlying dynamics and issues have been identified and a path forward agreed, we will begin the process of restoring an intimate and loving connection which may include:
- Improved communication through open and honest dialogue
- Learning active and non-judgmental listening skills
- Identifying existing strengths in the relationship
- Understanding the impact of children on your relationship
- Finding gratitude and appreciation
- Embracing the differences that give you each your individuality
- Rebuilding trust
- Learning to self-diagnose relationship patterns
- Understanding how family history shapes our beliefs about adult relationships
- Identifying past traumas that prevent growth as a couple
- Aligning your values
- Challenging assumptions about each other that have built over time.
- Homework tasks to keep the couple actively involved in caring for the relationship and cultivating healthy habits.
VISION AND MISSION CREATION
If can be very helpful for a couple to create a shared mission statement about what kind of relationship they want to live out. This process can help highlight differences in values and ideas about what a healthy relationship looks like.
The mission is not there as a set of rules to hold each accountable to, but more as a guiding principle to support the relationship to grow.