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Couple Relationships FAQ

Can counselling help a couple to break up?

Are you one of the many people who assume…

“…couple counselling tries to prevent a couple from breaking up…” ?

Then you might be surprised to learn that this commonly held view is a myth!

When people think that couple counselling is for couples who want to stay together, they’re missing the fact that couples who are breaking-up, divorcing or dissolving their civil-partnership can also benefit from using couple counselling to help them end their relationship.

Breaking-up a Couple Relationship.

When couples build their relationship, they acquire assets: physical, tangible and emotional.

Perhaps the couple share accommodation and a joint bank accounts.  They may develop joint responsibilities, and may have friends of the relationship. Many couples may have children, foster care or adopt children. There may be loved pets.

When a couple reaches a place where they may be facing the end of their relationship, matters such as these – and the couples own emotional attachments and distresses – need attending to.

The couple may be angry with each other, emotions may be running high, and there may be lots of blaming. Because of the relationship’s responsibilities & acquisitions, the couple may have to continue seeing each other during the break-up.

Some couples choose to use lawyers to end the relationship for them. This is understandable, the couple may be able to afford this (usually two lawyers), and the lawyers do the communication behalf of couple.

But some couples, at the end of their relationship, are able to work together to legally dissolve their relationship together – often at a much lower cost (financing and emotionally) than using solicitors. A couple counsellor can help the couple find a place where working with each other to dissolve their relationship is possible.

Working with a couple counsellor to end a relationship can be helpful – not least because:-

  • Meetings take place in neutral territory.
  • The Couple Counsellor is an independent third party who does not take sides.
  • Session times are fixed: the couple know when the session is going to end (which can feel quite containing).
  • Any matter can be discussed.
  • Should one or both partners wish to change the focus of the counselling – this can be discussed in session.
  • Counselling helps bring understanding… and this can reduce the need to blame and hurt.

The Couple’s Focus in Counselling.

One of the first things we do in couple counselling is begin to find the focus for counselling.

The focus of a couple’s work will be what the couple want to change about the relationship (including behaviour).  Assisting both partners express what they wish to focus on can help a couple bring a mutual understanding; that they are on the same page and that their direction is an agreed one.  It may be at this stage that the couple learn what the separation is really about – and may decide to work on that whilst postponing a permanent separation.

The couple may need a way to manage their separation – if not with any friendliness then at least with a modicum of tolerance.  That’s not an easy process – for obvious emotional reasons – but the couple can make use of a professional’s experience in helping their relationship to end.

Why choose a Couple Counsellor?

Not all qualified counsellors are qualified in working with couples.  A majority of counselling training qualifications train the counsellor on how to work with an individual, not a couple.

Couple counselling is quite different.  For example…

A counsellor trained only in individual counselling may meet with a couple and may focus upon one partner first (listening to them & offering questions & comments to them).

For example:  ‘how did you feel about his affair?’  (this is called an open question – it invites the individual to say more about a matter). The therapist may then turn to the other partner to repeat the process.

The counsellor is not offering true couple-counselling.

A counsellor trained in couple counselling, will practice neutrality whilst listening to the couple discuss their issues in a way that’s most comfortable to them (perhaps equally, perhaps one partner dominates the other before the counsellor intervenes).  The counsellor may offer questions & comments that addresses the relationship, (rather than the individuals).

For example: ‘Who first noticed that the relationship was breaking down?’ (this is called a circular question – it invites both partners to address their relationship, rather than their individual perspective in isolation).

 

For more information click here: Dean Richardson and his approach to couple counselling.

Divorce & Couple Counselling.

Couples who have engaged in marriage or a civil-partnership may decide that they wish to divorce.  Solicitors will be involved for the legal matters but the couple can still meet weekly with the counsellor to discuss matters about their divorce.

It is normal for an individual wishing to leave a relationship by “saving face”, and there can be pressure to denigrate their partner (because doing so helps the individual to appear or feel better than the partner).

Couples counselling can assist the couple with the separation processes through divorce; both partners may leave the relationship in a neutral (perhaps even friendly – though not essential) way.

Are you a couple thinking about breaking-up?

Whether divorce, dissolving, breaking-up, or separating, couple counselling can assist you in the process of bringing your relationship to an end.

Dean Richardson offers couples counselling in Portsmouth and Southsea (Hampshire) and online via Skype.

 

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Couple Relationships FAQ

Platonic-Couple Counselling (Professional & Non-intimate Relationships)

For the purposes of this article, I define a “couple” is two adults involved in a relationship … any form of relationship.

Whilst some assume that ‘couple counselling’ is only for couples in an intimate (meaning sexual) relationship, because a couple relationship does not have to be sexual,  marital or a civil-partnership, then couple counselling is also not exclusively for those only in such relationships.

Couple counselling can be very helpful to platonic relationships.

By “platonic relationships” I would include:

  • Business partners.
  • House-mates / flat-mates.
  • Neighbours.
  • Friends.

  • Parent and (adult) child.
  • Brothers / Sisters.
  • Family members
  • … any relationship where two people are involved with each other and who wish to change.

And using family systems theory as his model, Dean Richardson’s Systemic Couple Counselling for Platonic Relationships is ideal for non-intimate couple relationships wishing to change their relationship behaviour.

Systemic Couple Counselling.

Systemic couple counselling is a process that assists two people in a partnership to focus upon their relationship with a view to learning how to change the relationship for both parties’ benefit.

By being deeply interested and curious into how a relationship works, a couple (who may arrive with the story “we’ve tried everything already, how can counselling help us when we’ve already tried everything?”) can be assisted in seeing new avenues and new approaches that they had not been able to see before.

And, for platonic partners intimacy & sexual congress will likely not be a topic for discussion – though if the couple wish to discuss this too them this is available in couple counselling.

What we do in Counselling for Platonic Relationships.

  • Conversation: we use verbal communication to discuss the relationship and the changes to be negotiated.
  • Diagrams: we can use drawings (such as the Ishikawa Diagram) to visually outline how the relationship works.
  • Genograms: we can diagram family trees to document the individual’s relations’ behaviour, allowing us to identify patterns from our families of origins that are being replayed in this relationship (see Wikipedia Genogram article).
  • Role playing: we can act out different scenarios to see how they work (or don’t work).  The therapist may take on the role of one or the other partner in order to participate in changing the current relationship patterns (the observing partner can watch a different approach & be invited to comment).
  • Role Reversal: inviting both parties to swap seats and repeat something (such as a recent argument) playing the role of the other partner. This helps both parties see how they are perceived (and misunderstood/understood) by the other, inviting a conversation about what has been mis-communicated.
  • Separation: couple counselling is not bound in keeping a couple together.  If the couple are looking for a way to separate whilst negotiating responsibilities in the separation, couple counselling will support this process too.
  • Perturbation: whilst learning how the current relationship works, we aim to disturb (or ‘perturb’) the relationship behaviour to make room for new ways of behaviour and relating.

Couple Counselling is not Facilitation, Mentoring or Mediation (and vice-versa).

… but there are similarities and important over-lapping areas (in this table ‘counsellor’ refers to a [tooltip text='Systemic therapy is a branch of psychotherapy that works with families and couples in intimate and platonic relationships to nurture change and development. It tends to view change in terms of the systems of interaction between family members.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_therapy'] systemic [/tooltip] couple counsellor).

Mediation.Counselling.
Mediation is a structured process that can be restricted to a small number of sessions.Counselling can be structured too, but tends to invite the couple to decide upon the structure they wish to work in. The work tends to work on the focus of the relationship problem, rather than a set number of sessions, ending with both parties agree the work has been done.
Mediation focuses on the future: how both parties would like things to be rather than have any detailed knowledge of the past.In addition to looking to the future, counselling includes a curiosity towards how the relationship came into being how it is now. This is to support couple’s learning what contributed to the relationship’s current status, in order that the couple can put in places processes to manage recurrences.
A mediator does not overtly try to influence the participants or the outcome.The counsellor keeps the same neutral stance, but may also opt (with the couple’s permission) to “play” the part of one partner in a discussion with the other.  This allows both partners to witness a process different to their own, and invites curiosity towards the different approaches.
A mediator relies on both parties being present.The counsellor also requires both parties be present, but if it has been discussed with the couple first, meeting with one (either or both) partner on their own can be helpful provided that the other partner is brought up to date about what was discussed later on.
A mediator doesn’t explore a person’s feelings in any depth.The counsellor may explore feelings to the depths acceptable by both partners, so that either partner can learn something of how the other partner functions in response to their partner.
A mediator aims for clear agreement between the parties and how they will deal with specific issues.The counsellor also aims for clear agreements between the couple, except to get there the counsellor would assist the couple in helping them learn & understand how their relationship currently works; by being focussed on the couple’s relationship the parties can learn how to change behaviours to alter the relationship.
A mediator remains neutral.The counsellor also remains neural, whilst also being supportive of both individuals and the relationship.

It’s interesting to note that a mediator’s professional role appears to be a subset of a professional couple counsellor’s role and, of course, a couple may choose one approach over the other:-

Marriage counseling typically brings couples or partners together for joint therapy sessions. The pathology of the marital breakdown is explored and analyzed.

Marriage mediation is practical, agreement-oriented and detail-oriented. When a couple identifies specific areas of conflict on which to focus, they learn to use the mediation process to find points of agreement and negotiate conflict-reducing resolutions. Through the process of marriage mediation, couples will be developing and practicing cooperative, respectful, constructive ways of communicating and reaching accord.

(Citations from http://marriage-mediation.com/ sourced February 2nd, 2012).

… and as I am writing as a systemic & object-relations orientated couple counsellor, Marriage Mediation’s expression of marriage mediation is precisely a subset of the skills that I include in my professional role as a couple counsellor.

Dean Richardson’s development from Non-Counselling to Counselling Professional.

As this article’s author, it is my position that mediation skills are a subset of counselling skills (albeit both approaches have an important place on their own).  It is therefore interesting to notice my own development as a mediator/facilitator/coach towards practising as a professional couple counsellor…

I began as an IBM-trained business facilitator and coach.

Originally trained in the mid 1990s, my role as business facilitator was to attend meetings that had nothing to do with my own department/business (hence maintaining neutrality) and assist the meeting attendees to identify problem that got in the way of work issues and work through the problems to a resolution that the meeting attendees wanted. By the end of the 1990s, I took the role of head of the IBM UK Facilitator’s Network.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, IBM UK introduced the concept of coaching & mentoring.  I trained to became one of a team of business coaches; the role of the coaches was to meet with certain IBM employees, whom management had identified, to support and assist the employees in aspects of their careers.

It was these roles that began my journey into becoming a BACP accredited counsellor/psychotherapist – and it’s these skills of a counsellor – and in particular my qualification in couple counselling – that I offers to couples (platonic or intimate) who are seeking assistance with their relationship (read more about Dean’s professional qualifications & experience as a couple counsellor…).

Where is Couple Counselling for Platonic Relationships Available?

Couple counselling for platonic relationships is available from Dean Richardson as follows:-

  • Portsmouth & Southsea (Hampshire): face-to-face meetings centred on the south coast in Southsea (click for location information).
  • Skype: video camera conference meetings using three Skype devices – idea for people who are in separate places, even remote countries (click for Skype information).

 

What to do next…

If you are involved in a platonic relationship with another person, that relationship is causing distress and both you and the other party would like to work on changing the relationship, make contact with Dean Richardson today to discuss options.

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Couple Relationships FAQ

On Bringing Couple Counselling to a Close

Couple Relationship Counselling is about working in therapy with conflicts in a couple’s relationship.  The couple can be married, in a civil-partnership, being romantically involved or just simply colleagues who have a relationship (business or personal) that has developed conflicts (read more…).

Closing States of Couple Counselling.

There are two states for the end of couple counselling: resolved and unresolved.

Resolved: when the initial conflicts – plus conflicts that appeared during the course of couple counselling – have been worked through to the couple’s satisfaction. Satisfaction may mean: enough so that the couple can work on the issues themselves without further therapeutic intervention.

Unresolved: when the initial conflicts – or conflicts that appeared during the course of couple counselling – have only been partially worked  through & the couple are still distressed at – or helpless from – the conflicts.

Both of these states can be worked with during an ending to couple counselling. Although resolved might appear to be a better state, it depends upon what the couple want as it’s their relationship (and always has been even with therapeutic intervention).

When a couple decide to end counselling, working toward an ending is an appropriate choice (rather than simply stopping counselling without notice).

Topics for Closing Sessions.

In the final sessions it can be helpful to discuss the following:

  • What matters presented at the assessment for couple counselling (read more…).
  • What matters came up during the couple counselling?
  • What matters do both partners agree that we have worked through?
  • What matters do partners disagree on.
  • What matters are left outstanding (any “unfinished business”) – for both partners together, or for each individual partner?
  • What might the couple wish to do about the unfinished business?
  • What has been gained from the counselling process … and what is being lost as it ends.

A purpose of such a review is so that couples counselling can end with the work being reviewed openly.  Both partners can leave therapy knowing what is agreed as being resolved, and what matters are left unresolved.  Knowing what work is left to do means the couple can consciously continue to work on further matters in their own time and their own way.

Number of Sessions.

The number of sessions to bring couple counselling to a close will be decided in a discussion with the couple.  It’s preferable that an ending to counselling is brought about once the presenting issues have been worked through – so the ending is a case of how many sessions would be required to discuss sufficiently the closing sessions topics.

This, plus any outstanding matters the couple wish to talk about.

Ending Counselling without Final Sessions.

Leaving counselling without such an ending as discussed above can be unhelpful to the couple’s relationship.  Unresolved conflicts can continue in the relationship – assuming that the relationship continues.

Sometimes the couple decide they wish to separate and they leave the relationship (couple counselling can also be used to help a couple to separate) and when the couple no longer maintains the relationship, the counsellor’s “client” (the relationship) can no longer be brought to counselling.  Other types of endings can then be discussed.

So, working towards an ending in couple counselling are an important part of the counselling process.  whether the couple involve the counsellor in the ending or not.

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Couple Relationships

Counselling for Couples after an HIV Diagnosis

Counselling following an HIV Diagnosis.

If you are in a relationship – regardless of either of your sexualities – and you are having relationship problems after an HIV test gave a positive result then contact Dean Richardson today to arranging a no-obligation initial session to see if couples counselling could be helpful for both of you.

It has not been unusual for a couple – gay, lesbian or straight – to come to see Dean Richardson for private couples counselling after one (or both) have been diagnosed as HIV-positive.

  • Sometimes the couple counselling is about dealing with the shock of receiving a positive diagnosis.
  • Sometimes the counselling is about dealing with trust issues raised by one partner being diagnosed.
  • Sometimes the diagnosis is cathartic in releasing other matters that have been delayed – but now need someone to help the couple discuss.

Whatever the core reasons of seeking couples counselling, Dean is a qualified and experienced couples counsellor who works with couples that have received a positive HIV diagnosis (amongst many other couple relationship reasons for counselling).  His couples counselling service in Portsmouth can help a couple negotiate their way through difficult problems resulting from HIV diagnoses.

The GU clinic may give you and your partner support after an HIV positive diagnosis, but longer term therapy is available privately through meeting with Dean.

Arranging a Couple Counselling appointment.

You don’t need to be referred to Dean via your local GUM clinic, nor your doctor, you can make your own appointment directly. Initiating private counselling is totally up to you both and can be arranged very quickly. 

Dean is a systemic and psychodynamic qualified couples counsellor that is ideal for assisting a couple in finding their own newly inspired solutions to their own relationship conflicts. Dean’s couple counselling is a confidential service that can compliment the medical treatment that you will continue to receive through your GUM clinic and/or your doctor.

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Couple Relationships

Five Secrets of Happier Couples

As a professional couple’s counsellor, it’s an occupational hazard that I only get to work with unhappy couples.  Fortunately, I often do get to experience a transitional stage where a couple begin to transform their relationship into something that’s more positive and more happy for the two of them.

I am sharing these five “secrets” (not really secret!) based upon my observations.  Whether heterosexual, gay or lesbian, how couples moves their relationship from an unhappy state into a more happier state have common features.

1) Couples spend quality time on their relationship.

At least by the time a couple begins to meet with me for couple therapy, the couple have stopped spending time on the relationship.

This is sometimes due to the fact that sometimes couple learn to not communicate for very good reasons – and by not spending time on the relationship those reasons can be kept under lock and key

Living together is not spending time on the relationship.  The relationship is that thing that the couple have created together (and sometimes begin to destroy together).  Learning what the relationship is for a couple (it can be different for each couple) is the first step. 

  • Some couples set a “date” night once a week. 
  • Some set a meeting night once a week to discuss their relationship.
  • Some keep a “relationship” diary where both partners can write messages to the relationship about what’s going well (or not).

Sometimes a poorly relationship needs some focussed time spending on it.  It can simply be that the couple have forgotten that their relationship needs care, and for a while it needs to be nursed back into help.

2) Couples can hear each other’s communication.

One of the more frequent interventions I make in couple’s counselling is “What did you make of what your partner just said, there?”.

Couples who are in a distressing relationship can often answer “I don’t know”, or misunderstand their partner, or say things like “Well if he/she loved me I wouldn’t need to explain”.  These couples have have lost their skills in communicating.  It can be a very painful state to be in.

Inviting each partner to learn what the other partner is saying can be very helpful.  If a partner gets the communicate message wrong, it’s helpful for the partner to patiently teach the other what was meant (avoiding chastisement).

3) Couples can be comfortable when apart from the relationship.

Some couples have found they have unintentionally excommunicated all their friends to the point where only their partner exists in their world.  There may have been an unintended plan in doing this – I’m talking attachment styles.

When thinking about attachment styles (eg the early relationship of the infant to its caregiver) the infant may be secure; that when mum goes out of the room the infant will carry on playing, knowing at some level that mum will be back in a bit.  On the opposite scale, an insecurely attached infant will be greatly distressed when mum disappears for a little bit. For more on attachment styles, read “Attachment Theory – an Overview”.

Deeply felt insecurities may manifest in the relationship.  Jealously (“where were you all night?”), suspicion (“who are you seeing behind my back?”), are just two manifestations.

Having partners understand how each other attach in intimate relationships can help both partners appreciate where unpopular behaviour stems from (sometimes way back in the past).  Showing consistency (eg going out with the lads every Thursday night causes anxiety, but coming back home at an hour both partners agreed) can greatly help address initial change from insecure attachment to something more secure.  Secure attachment can handle unplanned behaviour (eg coming home late) where as insecure attachment may not.

4) Couples can share the truth / show authenticity.

No-one can tell when you’re lying.  Honest!

There are many reasons why people lie, and as a therapist one of the greatest demands on my practice is consistently authentic.  It’s essential that I demonstrate trust-able behaviour, consistent responses, holding boundaries agreed up front.  It’s a form of replaying the holding care that a care giver does (or should) when the infant is very small.

In the beginning, it’s likely that you and your partner were more truthful with each other than later in the relationship (ever heard of “pillow talk”, for example?)

Introducing inauthentic behaviour or telling lies will be felt at some level by our partner.  If you find there isn’t a place to tell the truth, maybe secret #1 might be the first place to address this.

5) Couples recognise their relationship as being unique.

When problems arise, everyone may have a say: your family, your friends, your partners family & friends, work colleagues, the people next door.  They’ve all been through it… but have they?

In couple therapy, part of my role is to provide an encouraging atmosphere of promoting the couple coming up with ideas and solutions of their own.  I don’t have any exercise that if performed correctly will cure the relationship’s problems.  I have no magic words that will make the unhappiness go away.  But what I do do is help a couple to realise that their relationship is pretty much unique and that they do not have to adhere to what society says is the behaviour of a happy relationship (see Secret #4!).

In society, we usually want to fit in, so we make our behaviour fit with everyone else.  We know that mum and dad never had a bad word and never argued.  We know that the couple over the road were married for 70 years and never spent an might apart.  Except … what people say about how their relationship works may not be quite the truthful story.

Helping a couple to disengage with what they think is supposed to be the right way to behave in a relationship, and helping them engage creatively and with inspiration with what they would both like in the way of relationship-behaviour can contribute greately to making their relationship work … after all, there’s no relationship quite like theirs.

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FAQ

How do I begin Counselling?

Beginning counselling in Portsmouth, Hampshire with Dean Richardson is straightforward.

It might help you to be aware that once you have arranged to meet for a first session with Dean (the ‘assessment’) you’re pretty much assured to begin counselling with him – should you choose to.  The assessment session is to ensure that the problems you present for counselling are matters which Dean and you can work with.  It is not to evaluate you to past a test that would allow you into therapy.

Dean takes on a limited number of simultaneous cases.  This is to ensure that you (or you and your partner, or the support group you may join) gets the best out of Dean as therapist.  Dean makes sure that he is not overworked by having a maximum number of cases at any one time during the week.  So, when you look on the front page for list of times Dean is available, you know that Dean is already available to take you on as a new case.

Individual or Couple Counselling.

  1. Take a look at Dean’s available appointments range.
  2. Contact with Dean – letting him know when you’d like to meet.
  3. Dean will return your contact to confirm – or offer another appointment time that’s near to your choice.
  4. You and Dean will meet for a counselling assessment to discuss your needs from counselling and to see if you and Dean both believe it will be beneficial for you to work together in therapy, or if maybe a referral to a colleague or another service might be a better choice.
  5. If there is nothing contraindicative to proceeding into counselling, you and Dean will arrange a weekly appointment (usually the same day, same time and same location as the assessment appointment).
  6. For individual counselling Dean and you meet together weekly for either a fixed number of sessions (see Brief Counselling), or until the issues you came into counselling for are worked through sufficiently for you and Dean to both recognise that the counselling is done.
  7. For couples counselling, you and your partner will meet with Dean until the issues you and your partner came to address have been sufficiently worked through for you all  to agree that the work is done.

Support Groups.

  1. Take a look at Dean’s available groups.
  2. Contact with Dean – letting him know which group you’re interested in joining.  Choose an appointment time from here to come for a meeting to discuss your needs from group therapy.
  3. Dean will return your contact to confirm your appointment time, or to offer one as near as possible to your choice.
  4. You and Dean will meet for a 50 minute talk to discuss your needs from a support group and to discuss if both you and Dean believe it will be beneficial for you, or if a referral to a colleague or another service might be appropriate.
  5. If you and Dean both agree about you joining a group, you both will arrange for you to be added either onto a waiting list to join a not-yet-meeting, or to be given a starting date to join an existing group. 
  6. Because some groups only accept new members when the membership quota has dropped below the maximum membership number, you may be waiting for your place in the group to become available.  You and Dean will look after your needs in the meantime either by arranging holding sessions with Dean, or by discussing other means to look after you whilst you wait.
  7. When your place in the group becomes available, you will be given your start date.
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Couples FAQ

What is an Assessment for Couple Counselling?

Before couple counselling commences, a couple is invited to an initial assessment.

An assessment for couple counselling is often four sessions – and this time allows the couple to give a full overview of their relationship problems to the therapist, allows the therapist offers some helpful, information-gathering questions, and allows all three the opportunity to discuss if they can work together to achieve the focus discovered and set by the assessment.

The four sessions are divided as follows:-

  • Session one: all three meet to give an overview of the problems, and begin to discuss what might be an approach for couple counselling.
  • Session two: one partner meets with the counsellor on their own.
  • Session three: as session two, but with the other partner.
  • Session four: all three meet again to discuss what was learned in the previous three sessions… and to see if a focus for couple counselling can be agreed.

Sometimes the assessment can be enough to dislodge the couple into continuing their relationship work on their own.

Sometimes the couple continue meeting with the counsellor.

If the couple and therapist agree not to proceed into therapy a referral may be made to another therapist.

Click for full details about an assessment for couples counselling.

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Couples FAQ

Is Couple Counselling Right for Us?

Are you looking for assistance in helping you and your partner decide how to improve your relationship?  Or are you looking for someone to tell you what to do?

If the former, then couple counselling might be something that is right for you.

If the latter, then couple counselling may not be suitable for you.

A couple counsellor has no instructions or recipes that if you follow to the letter you will find that your relationship improves.  However, a couples counsellor is skilled in helping couples learn what they’re not paying attention to (or have stopped paying attention to).  Some couple counsellors will be curious about the past history of the relationship – when was there a time when things were better.  Some couple counsellors will be curious about the present day – how does the relationship nurture unhappy behaviour.  Some counsellors will sit quietly and listen (actively) to an argument go on for a while – learning about what the partners cannot see for themselves.

Couples counselling can help perturb unhappy behaviours – but both partners have to wish for the relationship to change.  Unhappy behaviours may have become necessary for one (or both) partners (eg avoiding sex) – and dislodging these behaviours might release even more unhappiness if this is not first understood – this is just one of the aims in couples therapy.

Do you think couple counselling might be right for you both?