Over time most relationships can suffer from internal and external pressures, ranging from balancing the needs of children or other family members, employment (or the lack of it) to simply not having enough money. As the saying goes, "when poverty comes in at the door, love flies out the window."
Small niggles and annoyances can grow over time, with frequent complaints developing into well-worn routines. We can learn just which buttons to press to hurt those who hurt us. Rather like adversaries engaged in long running hostilities, relationships can develop to a point when partners meeting up after a long day can grab their metaphorical tin helmets and head to opposing bunkers - starting off with a little light sniping, or bringing out the heavy artillery straight from the start. There can be a stalemate, with both dug into entrenched positions.
The role of a therapist is not to act as any kind of judge or umpire, but rather to help establish a cease fire and establish effective lines of communication – to encourage and improve a constructive dialogue, to help people understand and avoid the triggers that will set of and feed a row. Their client is not either of the couple, but instead it is the relationship between them. Just as in solo therapy, the process can only work if there is a genuine wish for all those involved to want to find a resolution - and a willingness to fully engage in the process.
In encouraging open, respectful and honest communication, couples counselling may not necessarily always end up with a restored partnership. We can all change over time, and the world changes round us. When a relationship is no longer viable, sometimes the kindest option for all parties is to part as amicably as possible. Drawing out an inevitable separation can prevent people from moving on with their lives and just end up leaving more bitter memories and bad blood in the past.
It is not the role of the therapist to give any advice about ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ - that decision can only be made by the couple concerned. Our role is to help clear the air, bring clarity and insight to what can be an achingly painful, situation and work to identify common goals and desires. If there is a log jam in a relationship, a therapist can help shine a light on which log is causing the blockage, but the decision on whether to give that log it a thump or not to things moving again is not theirs to take. Neither is it their place or role to make any judgements or hold a personal view on the validity of, or balance within a relationship. Only the couple concerned can decide what is right for them, both jointly and individually.