Our sense of who we are is often deeply entangled with our network of relationships. If our intimate relationship moves from the romantic period into rocky terrain it may feel as though there is no solid ground. We may alternate between feelings of hope, anger, despair and fantasies about a better life with someone else.
If a current relationship is in trouble and both people are committed to change this, then couples counselling will be the most appropriate way forward. I do not offer couples counselling but am happy to signpost clients in appropriate directions.
There are however many reasons why relationship counselling may happen in individual sessions, for instance:
- If one person wants to explore concerns they have about their relationship or their own way of relating. It is quite common that initially one person within the relationship wants to do the work more than the other.
- If someone is currently single and tired of dead end relationships they may want to explore how and why they picked their partners in the past. It may be useful to see if there are recurring patterns in relationships and to understand more about one’s own relationship needs.
- If someone has been in an abusive relationship they may have to learn about healthy and supportive relationships again and about their rights to being treated with dignity and respect.
Our ways of relating are learned at a young age in the family in which we grew up and we can become stuck in unhealthy and unhelpful habits that restrict our lives. We all have expectations and projections and it is often helpful to explore the impact they may have on others. Counselling and psychotherapy helps to recognise our patterns of interacting with those around us and supports the client to experiment with new ways of relating. This work can open up choices and prepare for a more connected, committed and successful relationship with others.
In order to find the best way to show our love and appreciation to our partner we need to have some understanding of their ‘language of love’. We tend to give that which we crave ourselves. This is not always what our partners want or need. They may be looking for different signs. That way two well meaning people can easily miscommunicate. Learning the skills to negotiate and communicate better can allow unhelpful patterns to change.
As well as learning how to love, perhaps the greatest test of an intimate relationship is learning to receive love. Many of us have trouble accepting and integrating the affection and appreciation we so deeply desire. We tell ourselves that we're not getting what we want and need because other people are either not loving us enough or not loving us in the right way.
The fear of getting hurt can lead to several dysfunctional behaviours that are intended to protect us from pain but are often the cause of it, such as giving in to a desire to control our partner. The therapeutic process can help to develop the self-support needed in order to live with uncertainty and to embrace the impermanent beauty of life.
In extreme circumstances, separation and/or divorce may seem like the only option. In these situations therapy can offer safe support in order to navigate this difficult period with dignity and respect. In short, I believe that relationship counselling helps you to make the most of your relationships, past, present or future.
Here is a short video of Harville Hendrix (founder of Imago Couples work) talking about common relationship problems.
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