There are many reasons why two people may consider relationship counselling. Also known as couples or marriage counselling, a relationship therapist works with a couple to identify issues, explore conflicts and establish goals.

In addition, relationship therapy doesn’t always have to be a romantic partnership. It could be a friendship or business partners where both individuals are wanting to try to bring about change or improved communication. Sometimes relationships can experience issues and a professional counsellor can help you find ways to move forward. 

We speak to Graham, a systemic counsellor who works with both individuals and couples. Heres everything you need to know about relationship counselling.

Why do people have relationship counselling?

Relationship counselling can help any partnership between two people that has lost its way. It is mostly considered to be about a romantic relationship this doesn’t have to be the case.  It could be a friendship or business partners where both parties are wanting to try to bring about change or better integration between two people.

Of all partnerships we form, a romantic relationship becomes the closest type of partnership which can develop to cohabiting or marriage. Each change in any partnership provides its own ups and downs and brings its own form of pressure and change.

There are very few relationships that exist without some form of conflict at some time. Some of the things I have heard in therapy are clients complaining of bickering, frustration, lack of communication, loss of trust or simply where has the fun gone!  Whatever it is, left alone these thoughts can lead to doubt, which then leads to questions about the future and the sustainability of a relationship.

Why is relationship counselling beneficial?

As a relationship develops so do life changes such as a new career or children. All these changes to the context of the relationship need careful navigation and negotiation. Like steppingstones crossing a river, they take time to navigate but are passable with care and hopefully embed with time.

We can experience changes in priorities and talking about these can be difficult, particularly when life is so busy. Taking time out together and keeping communication channels open is important. Understandably this can be challenging, therefore having an independent counsellor present is extremely helpful for some people to discuss their concerns.

Counsellors ensure that each partner has an equal voice without interruption. Each individual can gain an insight into what the other is experiencing. We hope that this neutral environment allows a conversation to begin between two people. This can be about what they would like to be different in the relationship, but also about what is good/valued in the partnership.

Couples counselling differs slightly from relationship counselling in that it involves both partners. Relationship counselling can be done 1:1 where just one of the pair tries to work through their own feelings. The important thing is that it “fits” and is helpful for you. It’s also important to accept that the therapy itself is not the answer. Time spent with your counsellor is a starting point and work must continue outside of the therapy room.

What relationship counselling doesn’t do?

Well, the first thing is it isn’t about being told what you should do, neither is it about changing your partner. Some individuals start with the idea of passing blame to others or of counsellors telling them what to do. We are independent and don’t have any answers. People often think we can fix their issues, but we can’t.

Counsellors are not providing a magic cure. We help people to develop new strategies, new understandings and facilitate change from within. We hope to bring resolution, new perspectives and establish new effective forms of communication within the relationship.

Therapists won’t criticise you, take sides or recommend that you should separate. They will help you to keep focused on the session, be respectful of each other and concentrate on the work being done. This often involves letting go of fixed ideas, stepping back and looking at the process of how you interact.

Remember, relationship counselling is not a place to avoid emotions. By exploring your feelings together and finding different perspectives it helps you decide what you are able and willing to change and accept.

What happens in a counselling session?

When counselling begins it is good to have an idea of where you want to move to and what is the end goal. You also need to be committed to accepting change in whatever form it appears. Being open is important as well. It is fundamentally different from individual therapy because of the three people being in the room together. It is important to remember that your counsellor is a facilitator, not a mediator.

Despite these different dynamics, the basics are the same. Confidentiality, both partners are held in the same respect and allowed time to express their own individual feelings and thoughts. It should be all about you and not the opinions of the counsellor because you are the experts in your own lives.

You have the opportunity to discuss the challenges openly in the safe space that therapy provides without being judged. You should feel free of risk from criticism or blame because it’s definitely not about that. The hope is that in this neutral space where respect for each other must be kept, that mutual understanding and change can be negotiated and allowed to grow.

Sometimes 1:1 counselling is beneficial

In some instances, as therapy develops, individual partners feel that 1:1 counselling would be beneficial for them. This is fine and can run alongside the couple sessions providing everyone agrees. On other occasions, one person starts individual counselling and the other partner joins after a few sessions. This can work alongside couples working together and be helpful to the process. Couples counselling can be challenging as well so you should expect it to be uncomfortable at times.

It’s all about honesty, it can be hard listening to what your partner actually does think about you. Openness and honesty are important because building new understanding is what the process is trying to do.

If you would like to find out more about relationship counselling or any of our counselling services just get in touch: hello@breathe-uk.com

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