Couple counseling: who can benefit?

Relationships are far from perfect. Each person brings their own ideas, values, opinions and personal history into a relationship, and they don’t always match their partner’s.

Those differences don’t necessarily mean a relationship is bound for conflict. On the contrary, differences can provide an opportunity to understand, respect and tolerate opposing views, values and cultures. 

They help one learn better ways of communicating so that the relationship is able to evolve. 

Relationships are often tested. Developmental milestones, such as the birth of a child, relocation or retirement, can place undue stress on the couple. Differences or habits that were once found endearing may become an enormous source of irritation after time together. Sometimes specific issues, such as an extramarital affair or loss of sexual attraction, trigger problems in a relationship. Other times, there’s a gradual disintegration of communication and caring. Whatever the cause, these are all symptoms of a troubled relationship which can create undue distress, tension, confusion, sadness, worry, fear and other issues. One may hope relationship troubles go away on their own, but left to fester, a difficult relationship may only worsen. Over time it can lead to chronic physical or psychological problems, such as insomnia, anxiety or depression. A conflictual relationship can also create problems at work and affect other family members and even friendships. 

Sometimes an individual chooses a particular kind of person because there is an unconscious attempt to heal some wounded part of the self. One partner may mirror insecurities in a way that pushes the other to acknowledge their vulnerabilities. The acknowledgement of the struggle and/or being in pain is often the first step in seeking psychological support. A therapy session provides a safe neutral space to start naming and understanding the issues and defenses inherent in a difficult relationship.

Strengthening bonds and anticipating change

A couple doesn’t necessarily need to have a troubled or dysfunctional relationship to seek therapy. Couple counseling can also help couples to strengthen their bonds and deepen intimacy. It may offer emotional and practical support to those who are anticipating big changes in their lives, such as moving in together, marrying or moving abroad. Achieving a better understanding of one other and learning to communicate differences, assists a couple with navigating change and unavoidable external stress.

Counseling is often short term. A couple may only need a few sessions to help weather a crisis. Or counseling over several months, particularly if the relationship has greatly deteriorated, may be recommended. As with individual psychotherapy, sessions are typically once a week. The work can help to rebuild a relationship, or possibly a decision may be made to break-up. Either way, couple counseling can help with understanding the relationship better and making well thought-out decisions. 

Recommended reading for helping with dysfunctional patterns of intimacy: 
-Co-dependent no more by Melody Beattie-

Recommended reading for helping couples through a separation:
-Conscious Uncoupling by Katherine Woodward Thomas-


Jodie Mackay | Clinical Psychologist

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