How Can Couples Counselling Benefit Our Relationship?
Couples Counselling can be of huge benefit to any relationship, regardless of the nature or severity of your problems. With the help of a professional therapist, couples can learn to manage conflict, improve their bond and create healthier communication habits. Research shows that the positive outcomes of couples counselling can last for years after therapy ceases (1).
Below are just a few of the major benefits that can come out of couples counselling:
- Improved communication
- Deeper connection and renewed intimacy
- Re-negotiating commitments and making decisions.
Couples generally come to couples counselling when they realise that their relationship is in trouble. Sometimes the problem is so significant, or has been ignored for so long, that the relationship is already in severe crisis. Ideally, a couple will seek help as soon as they realise they’re struggling to solve problems on their own.
The way a couple interacts, their communication style and way they manage conflict can predict, with significant accuracy, whether a relationship lasts or not (2) The sooner problems are addressed and resolved, the less chance there is that the couple will hit crisis point or that the relationship will dissolve.
No relationship is ever entirely smooth sailing. Sometimes the problems are overtly present from the beginning of the relationship, sometimes they surface after years of being together, or as a result of unexpected stresses. Whatever trouble your relationship is in, almost all couples can benefit from couples or relationship counselling at some stage in their relationship. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
WHAT IS RELATIONSHIP COUNSELLING?
In order to understand how relationship counselling can benefit your relationship, it is first important to understand what couples counselling is and why couples attend. In short, relationship counselling takes place with a professional counsellor, psychologist or therapist and is primarily focused on helping a couple resolve issues that are causing distress or distance between them. Although we tend to think of relationship counselling as being limited to romantic relationships, it can also include other family relationships, friendships and work relationships.
In some cases, the issues are substantial, like chronic or constant fighting, infidelity, or struggling with differences in sexual desire. In other cases, a couple may attend relationship counselling to help them make decisions about something specific, like where to live, whether to get married or whether to have a baby. Sometimes couples come to relationship counselling as a way of understanding each other better and making a more informed decision about a long-term commitment.
Many couples find themselves choosing relationship counselling as a method of helping themselves through difficult periods or periods of transition in their relationship.
WHY GO TO COUPLES COUNSELLING?
The primary benefits of couples counselling include:-
1. improving the way you communicate with one another, reducing the number and intensity of your arguments, enhancing your understanding of each other’s needs and reactions
2. revitalising lost intimacy and restoring a sense of loving connection in your relationship
3. negotiating or re-negotiating commitments. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
Each of these benefits is considered in greater detail below.
IMPROVED COMMUNICATION & UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN THE COUPLE
A relationship is made up of individuals, and as individuals, we bring our own personal history, personality, needs, hopes and desires to our relationships. As a result, even the most exceptional couple will not see eye to eye on every issue. Coming together with another human being to share our lives, or part of our lives, requires discussion, compromise, negotiation and communication.
Our ability to communicate with our partner – to share our own needs and fears, and to listen properly to their needs and fears – is therefore an essential tool for any healthy relationship. Australian research shows that communication problems are the main cause of relationship breakdown (3).
A qualified couples or relationship counsellor is trained to recognise and challenge your current communication habits, and to teach you how to communicate more effectively with one another. Often, just being encouraged to talk openly and honestly during your couples counselling session can already set you on the path to more open and calmer communication.
Strong communication skills (talking and listening) will allow you to resolve problems big and small, and will help keep your relationship strong even during times of severe stress.
REJUVENATING YOUR EMOTIONAL CONNECTION AND RESTORING LOST INTIMACY
The early stages of a new relationship are generally filled with emotional intensity, strong sexual desire for each other, and feelings of warmth and generosity towards one another. During this ‘honeymoon period’, the attraction and excitement is strong and couples often want to spend a great deal of time bonding. Over time these feelings become less intense as the novelty and excitement wears off, and couples can find their general relationship satisfaction declines (4).
The daily grind may also interfere with quality time spent together and couples can start to lose their sense of connectedness. Some people find they’re too tired to enjoy each other sexually. Or perhaps we are simply allowing minor irritations about our partner’s habits to get in the way of our deeper feelings. Whatever the cause, lost intimacy and feelings of agitation towards each other are not uncommon amongst couples who have been together for an extended period of time. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
Indeed, long term couples often find that they actually need to spend less time together in order to restore their sense of personal identity and individuality. This process commonly recurs from time to time during a relationship – a couple may go through many different periods where they come together and then pull apart to become individuals again. This process of separation may take the form of an emotional separation, or it might be more practical – one member of the couple might decide to study again, embark on a new career, or pursue a new interest. One way to think of this is as a pulsating circle. As the circle of the couple comes together and intensifies the pulse becomes brighter. But from time to time, the couple needs a breather and pulls apart in order to recharge and reconnect with themselves, only to be drawn back together again.
Whilst this process of coming together and then pulling apart to individuate is a normal developmental phase of any relationship it can place enormous pressure on the relationship. A qualified relationship or couples counsellor can help a couple understand each other through this process and help restore lost emotional and physical closeness.
HOW CAN RELATIONSHIP COUNSELLING HELP US NEGOTIATE COMMITMENTS?
One of the most problematic areas for couples can be focused on commitment. Commitments can take many shapes and forms, including a commitment to the relationship itself, a commitment to having children or a commitment to supporting a particular career choice or life path. We all have fears and concerns about making commitments on some level. Working with a relationship or couples counsellor can assist both members of the couple to voice their concerns and fears about what the commitment will mean to them and how it may change their relationship.
One of the ways in which a counsellor or psychologist can be of assistance is to not only help with airing concerns and fears, but also in negotiating responsibilities that may arise as a result of making a new commitment within the relationship. For example, if a couple decides together that one of them will begin new studies in order to pursue a new career path, that may change family and home maintenance responsibilities for both of them. Working with a professional relationship counsellor can help the couple to reach clear and workable agreements.
TORI AND EMILY’S STORY
Tori and Emily have been together as a couple for almost 10 years. While they love each other dearly and have committed to raising Emily’s daughter, Stacy, together, they both feel as if they are drifting in the relationship. One night as Emily is preparing for bed, she realises that she is actually looking forward to a time when she has the house to herself and does not have to worry about Tori’s work intruding on her. As she realises that what she really wants is to reclaim some space and time to herself, Emily suggests that she and Tori attend relationship counselling to help them negotiate some changes in their relationship. Emily is clear that she does not want the relationship to end, but she does want some changes in how she and Tori spend their time together. She also knows that if she brings the topic up with Tori on her own, Tori will spin into her own insecurities and it will blow up into a big fight between them. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
With the help of a relationship counsellor, Emily is able to talk to Tori calmly and clearly about what she needs for herself and why she needs it. She is able to talk to Tori about needing an outlet for her own emotional needs and a source of emotional growth that she can then bring back to the relationship and share with Tori. Emily is able to clearly state to Tori that she loves Tori, but that she needs to find her way to herself again. Even more importantly, the couples counsellor helps Tori to be able to really hear Emily’s needs, and actually empathise with her. In this way, she is able to see Emily’s desire for some separation as a personal need that Emily has, and not as a reflection on her
HOW DO WE FIND RELATIONSHIP COUNSELLING HELP?
If you and your partner feel you would benefit from relationship counselling or you are eager to learn how to connect more deeply and emotionally, you may find that talking with a professional counsellor, psychologist or therapist may be helpful. For more information or to schedule a consultation with a qualified counsellor, contact Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney.
Wiebe SA, Johnson SM, Lafontaine MF, Burgess Moser M, Dalgleish TL, Tasca GA. Two-year follow-up outcomes in emotionally focused couple therapy: An investigation of relationship satisfaction and attachment trajectories. J Marital Fam Ther. 2017;43(2):227-244. doi:10.1111/jmft.12206.
Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (1992). Marital processes predictive of later dissolution: behavior, physiology, and health. Journal of personality and social psychology, 63(2), 221.
Jacobs Bao, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2013). Making it last: Combating hedonic adaptation in romantic relationships. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(3), 196-206