We are often asked by people thinking about, or beginning relationship counselling, ‘Is it too late?’ and ‘Can couple counselling really help?’ And the answer is, that in many cases, it is not too late and, yes, couple counselling can, and does, make a significant difference in many relationships.
When couple counselling can be effective
· When both partners are unhappy about a particular aspect of the relationship but want their relationship to work.
· When the relationship has hit a crisis point - for example an affair has been discovered. Other crisis points might be where one partner feels ready to leave or one or both partners feel they have fallen out of love.
· When a couple feel ‘stuck’: they have tried to resolve their issues but go round and round in circles.
· When one partner feels unhappy but doesn’t know how to tell their partner so starts to withdraw from the relationship
· When a couple are thinking about moving in together or getting married and want to ensure they have a shared understanding of the relationship.
How relationship counselling can help
- It may be that things seem just too difficult to talk about or that there is never a good time to talk. The temptation can be to hope that somehow things will just sort themselves out. The painful reality is that if there are angry, resentful feelings in the relationship and they’re suppressed, they will come out. Sometimes an affair starts but more often the feelings are expressed in the way we behave towards each other - for example feeling constantly irritated by our partner; not wanting to spend any time together; looking for arguments; feeling nothing we do is right.
- Couple counselling can provide a neutral environment with a third person so issues that have never been discussed or, that have been discussed before but not resolved, can be worked through in a controlled, ’safe’ way.
- Sometimes both partners are unhappy about the same aspect of the relationship and both want to resolve that issue. In these cases counselling can be very effective in a relatively short time - often a matter of weeks.
- However, quite often at the start of counselling the two partners have a very different view of the issues and causes of the difficulties. It’s not unusual for one person to be quite sceptical about the relationship’s future whereas the other person thinks things could be resolved. Counselling isn’t about apportioning blame but about acknowledging what it is about the couple dynamic that does and doesn’t work. In these situations, the work is about reaching a shared understanding to see how ‘broken’ the relationship actually is, before a decision is made about its future. Then counselling can help couple use the understanding to move forward.
- Sometimes it may be that things have gone too far for both partners. Counselling can then be about making a separation less hostile / distressing. If the couple have children, their relationship as parents will continue – and the way they manage this will be absolutely key for the children. When there are high emotions/ conflict between a couple, children can be impacted badly – whether the parents are together or apart. Counselling can help manage this.
- Occasionally it does happen that the partners don’t agree on the way forward. At this point individual counselling can provide support in managing the huge sense of loss.
When couple counselling is not appropriate
- If there is ongoing domestic violence/abuse, couple counselling is not appropriate. Help and support for male and female perpetrators of domestic violence /abuse (emotional as well as physical) is available through Respect www.respectphoneline.org.
For female victims, there is support through Women’s Aid www.womensaid.org.uk, and for male victims, Respect offer advice and support www.mensadviceline.org.uk as do Mankind at www.mankind.org.uk. Crossing Bridges offers help for male and female victims at www.crossing bridges.co.uk.
Individual counselling with a relationship counsellor can also be very helpful for victims of domestic violence/abuse.
Berkshire Relationship Counselling Group
At Berkshire Relationship Counselling Group, we see our role as being to work with both members of the couple - to enable them both to share their experience of the relationship and hear their partner’s. Often clients talk about hearing things in a different, more constructive way in the counselling environment so they are able to move forward.