This article offers some suggestions and clarifications about the relationship counselling process. I realise that some of points I’ve made might not be applicable to everyone as each couple is different. Nonetheless I hope it’s useful.
Relationship issues are Normal
You may imagine that the people around you don't have relationship difficulties or not like the one's you are having. The issues you and your partner face, other couples face, more or less, maybe in a different form. There's a cultural myth that we should be able to sort out our relationship issues ourselves. Getting expert support when you feel stuck is smart move. Relationships go through stages and difficult times.
Give Relationship Counselling Time - Quick Fixes Rarely Last
Relationship counselling is a process where the more you put to it, the more you get out of it. For some couples a few sessions might be all
they need to get over a crisis, plus the knowledge that support is there if they need it in future. In general though quick fixes in relationship counselling are unrealistic and unlikely to last.
When you are hurting, feeling fear or guilt there can be a build up of urgency to try to fix whatever “it is”. Relationship counsellors understand this and want to help. At the same time your relationship counselor from experience knows the value of slowing things down and finding out about your relationship.
It’s worth taking the time to understand your relationship patterns and develop the basic skills of how to work through conflict (rather than avoid it). It takes practice, reinforcement with your relationship counsellor , plus perseverance to make a lasting change.
Be Open Minded
In practice this means to notice when you are challenged and have the willingness to try on different perspectives. Hold back judgement and become curious to find out more about your partner, what they do mean?, what are they feeling? (rather than assume you already know) . Be curious about what triggers you and why you feel so strongly.
In relationship counselling you may a reach a point where you are able to step more into a sense of your ‘Self’. You may feel strong enough to take more risks, to try on new things. You may feel you can survive getting things wrong, or feel strong enough to be vulnerable or able to challenge your partner in a more constructive way.
Relationship counselling over time can gradually transform your sense of Self from a rigid sense of ,’well this is who I am’ to a stronger ,more flexible sense of yourself,. This comes from trying out new behaviours , learning what fits for you. You become more able to hold the tension of different feelings inside yourself as well integrating feelings you had rejected.
Make Time For Your Relationship
Relationship counselling provides a psychological support structure which works well if you attend regularly and prioritise keeping your appointments.
When you start relationship counselling subtle changes happen automatically. There might be less tension, more space to do things together, more intimacy. You might find yourself being more assertive, taking more risks to be true to yourself. Attending relationship counselling detoxifies built up guilt and shame. It becomes safer to risk being yourself with your partner knowing that any conflict that arises can be worked through in the next session.
You can help the process by making time to connect between sessions. Relationship counselling is about building up what nourishes and supports your relationship. If possible reflect on what your partner said in the session and talk about it. Go on regular date nights, plan nourishing activities. Spend time together.
Trust Your Radar
Most of us have a sixth sense where we can detect if our partner isn’t being clear and upfront with us. If we don’t listen and act on that sense , trust and consequently intimacy suffers. Trust your radar and let your partner know when what they say mismatches with what you feel.
The converse of this is that if you hold back on your partner, through not sharing your feelings or keeping secrets they sense it and feel uncomfortable in the mismatch between what they sense and what you say or don't say.
Be In It together
Now that you have got a relationship counselor, you can give up trying to fix each other! Let the counselor be the therapist. When we are hurt and feeling vulnerable attack can seem the best form of defence. It can be so hard to let your partner in after so long. It feels too vulnerable. How can you trust them? It can feel safer to keep chipping away at them. Keep telling them what they are not doing right.
Avoid saying to your partner ,'Well the therpist said this...said that...' in the form of an attack. It's much better to say what you think and feel rather than bring what the relationship counsellor said in this way.
It takes time, yet the point comes in relationship counselling when you see the bigger picture, that the issues aren’t all with you or your partner. You see how the shared relationship pattern works. You see how often you stoke your partner up to keep doing the same behaviours. You realize that you are in this together. You become an ‘us’ working together rather than playing, ’who is going to be right and who is going to be the vulnerable one?’
Honesty - A prerequiste for intimacy
Many people fear in relationship counselling that if they were really honest with their partner about what they feel about them, about the relationship, their sex life or about what they have done, it would be the end of the relationship. A rule of thumb regarding giving feedback is to speak about your partner can do something about, not about what they can't.
Honesty brings in the potential for clearing up the mess, being in a relationship based on good communication, and informed trust where you can be true to yourself.
Yes, being honest is a risk..your partner may not be able to deal with it. However the general suggestion (except where there is a risk of violence) is to be honest in relationship counselling , get it all out.
Holding back what you feel blocks intimacy. Most relationships are in trouble because resentment and dishonesty in some form has built up. Relationship counselling provides a safe space to work out resentments through validating the hurt , recreating safety and clearing up mistakes and misunderstandings.
Communicate Your Concerns With Your Relationship Counsellor
If you feel you are needing something that you are not getting. Bring it to counsellor’s attention. Likewise if you feel misunderstood or your relationship counselor has said something you disagree with, or have financial difficulites let them know rather that sit on it or leave. Give your relationship counselor a chance to clear up misunderstandings. It’s part of the process.
By Richard Cole