Relationship Counselling – One Couple’s Therapy Experience
Relationship counselling is often undertaken by couples as an attempt to resolve issues in their relationship that are proving to be real problems that won’t go away. In many cases, problems can be traced back to issues that have been poorly communicated or not communicated at all. Some of the benefits of relationship counselling include clarifying goals of the relationship, mediating agreements and commitments, gaining a better understanding of the differences in your behaviours, feelings and assumptions, and discovering information about yourself and your partner which allows you to make conscious and educated choices about your relationship. Furthermore, research has consistently shown that routine couple counselling is effective and that it significantly improves relationship satisfaction (1).
TRAVIS AND BEVERLY’S COUPLES COUNSELLING EXPERIENCE
Travis and Beverly met while they were in their mid-20s and still studying at university. They were both intelligent and ambitious people who wanted to have an impact on making social change within their own community. Married when they graduated from their studies, Beverly and Travis agreed that they would wait several years before they started a family. Now, 10 years later, Travis feels like it is time to either start having children or decide not to have kids at all. Beverly feels torn. On the one hand she feels like time is running out for her to have kids, but she also feels like she is just now gaining momentum as a community organiser and is afraid she will lose her way if she takes time off to become a mother.
The more Travis pressures her about going off birth control and having kids, the more resentful Beverly finds herself feeling about the entire subject. Finally frustrated, Travis pushes Beverly to attend relationship counselling to help them resolve the issue. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
During initial sessions, Beverly is reluctant to talk or even contribute. She feels like she has been pressured by Travis to attend the counselling sessions and, even worse, she is now feeling like she wants to just cut and run, and leave the relationship altogether. However, their counsellor, Samantha continues to encourage Beverly to participate in the conversation and finally asks Beverly why she is ambivalent about having children at this point.
Beverly is surprised to discover that she is ready to talk about her work and that she is passionate about it. Samantha helps Beverly express to Travis the reasons why community work is so important to her and that she feels like she is contributing more to society by running her grassroots organisation than she could ever do by becoming a mother. Although Travis is taken aback at this insight, he is beginning to understand Beverly’s resentment at being pushed about having children. Although he is scared of her answer, he asks if she wants to have kids at all. Samantha helps Beverly work her way through her answer, which is not as straightforward as Travis thought it might be. Ultimately, Beverly reveals that she is completely unsure about being a mother, not only because of her own upbringing, but because she does not want to be saddled with all of the responsibilities of being a parent.
Travis, hearing this, is a bit baffled, but is able to better understand Beverly’s fears and concerns as Samantha helps Beverly explain her perspective that women end up bearing the majority of child rearing responsibilities and this is not something she wants to happen to them. Samantha helps Travis and Beverly learn active listening skills through role-playing and through guiding them through conversations about their childrearing beliefs and agreements. Active listening is one of the most effective communication skills that can be taught by a marriage counsellor or psychologist, and it results in more satisfying and rewarding interactions between partners (2). (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
Ultimately, after several weeks of relationship counselling, Travis and Beverly come to realise that they are probably not yet ready to start a family. They have a better understanding of the underlying reasons for this decision, and a better understanding and empathy for each other’s feelings.
HOW DID RELATIONSHIP COUNSELLING HELP?
Initially, Travis and Beverly had hit a snag in their relationship because an agreement they had made earlier in their relationship did not seem to be working on the schedule they had set for themselves. Their couples counsellor was able to help them slowly begin to understand each other by drawing them out into the conversation and uncovering underlying emotions that were driving the couple apart in frustration.
Another way in which counselling helped Beverly and Travis was that they learned improved communication skills through role modelling and examples in role-playing conversations with their therapist and each other. Their couples counsellor, Samantha, strategically used the role-play conversations as an opportunity to teach them how to talk to each other and listen carefully about difficult topics, even if they were afraid of the answer that they might receive.
As they were able to talk to each other more openly, Beverly and Travis were able to reconnect and reestablish the trust and common passions that had joined them in the first place. This revitalized their relationship, and even though they did not find a simple and direct resolution to their issue, they were able to find a more balanced and better understanding of each other. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
HOW DO WE START RELATIONSHIP COUNSELLING?
If you and your partner want assistance on a particular aspect of your relationship, you may find that talking with a professional couples counsellor, psychologist or therapist may be helpful. For more information or to schedule a consultation with a qualified relationship counsellor, contact Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney.
Petch, J., Lee, J., Huntingdon, B., & Murray, J. (2014). Couple Counselling Outcomes in an Australian Not for Profit: Evidence for the Effectiveness of Couple Counselling Conducted Within Routine Practice. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy 2014, (35), 445-461.
Pasupathi, M., Carstensen, L. L., Levenson, R. W., & Gottman, J. M. (1999). Responsive listening in long-married couples: A psycholinguistic perspective. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, (23), 173–193.