Couples Counselling or Couples Therapy can help the couple communicate better, look at past influences on present behaviour and help the individuals within the couple understand themselves and their partner better. Depending on approach to couples therapy, the therapist will either work with the here-and-now issues and provide the couple with tools to better communicate and relate to one another, and/or look at the dynamics stemming from each person’s family of origin and what each brings into their relationship.
In a sense, the role of the therapist is to introduce the individuals in the couple to one another. There are sides of ourselves that might be difficult to show to our partners without the help of a third party who is “looking in” the relationship.
The couples counsellor acts as an observer of the couples existing communication style, noticing how they interact both verbally and non-verbally. This information assists the therapist and the couple in helping to identify unhelpful patterns and difficulties in getting important messages across. Communication involves speaking, listening and other vital non-verbal cues.
The aim is to achieve greater awareness of how we come across by slowing things down, reflecting on what was said and noticing how things are received by our partner. Patterns of communication usually stem from how we were taught to communicate in our family of origin, therefore what comes naturally may not be what is needed to improve a relationship.
Some couples work involves mediation between parties, especially in situations of conflict and impasse. When the couple gets stuck in recurring patterns of behaviour, a skilled third party can assist in calming things down when exchanges get heated, keep track of certain dynamics, and suggest new and different ways of dialogue that are more conducive to conflict resolution. Ideally, in time, mediation is no longer needed and the couple will eventually learn to slow things down themselves and reflect on their style of relating without the help of a professional.
The therapist’s role is also that of an educator in the art of relating and communicating better. People who are very skilled in other areas of their lives can get stuck when it comes to their relationship. There is no shame in being a master communicator in your job but completely fail when it comes to your relationship. This is because there is so much more at stake. The closer we are to someone, the more difficult it is to see things clearly. Some people may feel resistance to coming to couples therapy because they don’t want to be taught to do something that they think they should know themselves. However, a certain degree of humility when it comes to improving your marriage or partnership, can go a long way. Afterall, we are all learning new things all the time.
It might feel daunting for couples to talk about the difficulties in their relationship to a total stranger. It can also feel exposing to talk to a stranger about your feelings in front of your partner. However, this very exposure is what enables us to lower our defences and put us in a more receptive and reflective frame of mind. Individuals within a couple often, over the course of their relationship, built walls around themselves as a protection against emotional
hurt and pain. Within a safe space and with a trusted therapist, the couple can hopefully begin to talk about and understand the origins of these feelings. This usually leads to partners getting to know each other better and feeling closer as a result. With more tools and healthier patterns of relating learnt during the sessions, the couple should feel more equipped to continue working on their relationship even after the therapy has ended.
Kevin Collins is a UKCP registered Psychotherapeutic Counsellor with an academic background in the field of literature and linguistics. He worked for many years in education – in schools and university. Kevin is available at our Lewes Practice.
Further reading by Kevin Collins –