Most people enter into couples counselling when their relationship has got problems. These problems can take the form of a crisis, such as an affair, or be more chronic, such as a loss of intimacy between a couple over a long period of time.
What does it mean to ‘fix’ a relationship? The word ‘fix’ would suggest that something is broken, and in some instances this is indeed what may have happened, such as where one party in the couple feels their trust has been broken.
It may seem instinctive to want to simply ’fix’ a problem when one arises, however, more often than not, the problem is a symptom of a deeper issue that may need addressing.
Couples counselling can be invaluable in making sense of the problems in a relationship and in coming to understand each person’s perspective. This in itself can improve the dialogue and communication between the couple and make whatever decisions they need to make easier and more empathic. Couples counselling is a process of facilitating dialogue and empathy between a couple, but it does not have any investment in whether a couple stay together or not.
The idea that couples counselling is not invested in whether a couple stays together often comes as a surprise. However, the process works with the desires of the couple – which can often be in conflict – and it is contingent on the couple working out whether they indeed wish to continue with the relationship – essentially to ‘fix it’ – or whether they would be better separating.
As stated, most couples enter into the process of couples counselling as they are in a crisis and they are unable to have a dialogue that enables them to constructively find a way forward.
Couples also enter into couples counselling in order to make use of the facilitating element a trained professional can bring to a complex conversation. For example, it is not uncommon for couples to enter into couples counselling after a significant event such as a life changing illness, a child leaving home or a change in career. The facilitated environment can create a felt sense of safety for the couple to explore ideas and options relating to their future which otherwise may become inflammatory without the stability that a third person can bring – a little like the stability that
comes from adding a third leg to a two-legged table.
If a relationship has hit a real crisis and a couple present for couple counselling, then it is likely that your counsellor will work with you to both explore why the problem arose as well as to work through the feelings that each member of the couple feels. Even in the case of an affair, some degree of responsibility is likely to lie with both members of the couple, even if only one has strayed.
Therefore, rather than the onus being on ‘fixing’ a relationship, perhaps a more realistic approach is to see couples counselling as a process through which intimacy can be re-established and trust built whereby each member of the couple is willing to see the other’s perspective. At times, as painful as it may be, a successful outcome of couples counselling can be a conscious uncoupling – a decision to separate on friendly and kind terms.
One thing is for sure, if one or both parties feel that a relationship is ‘broken’ the way forward is rarely to try and ‘fix’ it the way we might a broken object. Instead it is to see whether something new can be born from what has gone before – and it may just be that something much more intimate, much stronger as a relationship, can rise from the ashes.
Mark Vahrmeyer, UKCP Registered, BHP Co-founder is an integrative psychotherapist with a wide range of clinical experience from both the public and private sectors. He currently sees both individuals and couples, primarily for ongoing psychotherapy. Mark is available at the Lewes and Brighton & Hove Practices.
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