Couples counselling

Relationships - a story of ice and fire?

The perfect marriage perhaps can only exist in fiction. For us mortals, the reality is that there will be bumps along the road, obstacles to overcome, negotiations and compromises to make.

An early passion may cool to the point of freezing as the realities of life take over. 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 just bringing out the heavy artillery straight from the start. There can be a stalemate, with both dug into entrenched positions.

Most couples have probably experienced flare-ups at some point, perhaps with one partner blowing their top big time. It may seem that their rage is misplaced and completely out of proportion to whatever triggered their explosion, but just like a volcano pressure may have been building to a head for some time - in the same way that we can collect Nectar or loyalty points and then cash them in together for a fairly spectacular result. Perhaps it takes a build up of anger before that person feels able to express their anger, but is then not able to control themselves.

Relationships can get stuck in a cycle, with an argument leading to a promise to do things differently in the future. Perhaps there will be a change for a bit, but often the old familiar pattern returns, with the same results.

A therapist can help couples to break the cycle, to find new ways of being with each other, discover new paths and gain fresh insights into their relationship, to prevent problems building up over time. Their role 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. 

Whether a relationship is frosty or stormy, it is very unlikely that different results can come from repeating the same actions over and over again. Is it time to take action now and discover a new path for the future?