What happens when a couple or individual enters therapy for relationship problems? A starting point for many couples is usually a truce followed by a formal agreement that the relationship is not working and is in difficulty. Sometimes one partner has taken the lead and has persuaded their significant other that it is in their mutual interest to get help. Quite often both partners are in agreement that there is a problem, but disagree on what the problem or problems are. As a therapist I try to establish what the couple want from therapy and look to get their perspective on what is happening both from a positive and negative perspective. Its very easy to overlook what’s working well in a relationship when emotions are running high, and a lack of sleep reduces our ability to cope and be resilient when we need it most. Similarly it can be difficult to listen to each other when we feel hurt, let down, taken for granted, disrespected, or just unable to deal with the charged emotions of our partner. Sometimes it is very hard to communicate, listen, or be heard in an emotionally charged environment. Therapy can do many things but often just providing a calm space to communicate can start the process of healing the wounds in a cycle of emotional pain. Being heard and understood can be the beginning of making a relationship work again.
Not every couple can agree to attend counselling together. In many cases one partner decides to take the plunge and see what can be done to improve the relationship. Occasionally one partner attends based on sentiments like, “If you don’t sort yourself out……..”, or, “its all your fault, if only you could……..” . In these circumstances, then some problem in the relationship has been identified as being exclusively that partner’s problem. While resolving a relationship problem on your own in therapy may seem like an impossible task quite often it takes the heat out of a tense and challenging situation. Again, just getting time to explore what is happening in a calm environment can help bring clarity and insight to the bigger issues. It’s easier to see what has gone wrong and the potential options to resolving a difficulty when we have had time on our own, in a less pressurized environment. It’s easier to see solutions when we can talk without the fear of being judged or shamed about our behavior, or the feelings we may have experienced in an emotionally charged situations.
While the ideal would be for couples is to resolve their relationship problems together, very often it can help if one partner can take the initiative on their own. Therapy can be an important step in stopping a down ward destructive spiral in a relationship, and can prevent deeper emotional damage being inflicted on your relationship.