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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

“It’s him that’s the problem, not me!”

What Couple Counselling Cannot Achieve On Your Behalf.

This is a brief comment – based upon many experiences of new couples coming into counselling for the first time – and is more about emotional conflicts between couples (as to actual physical harm, which comes more under heading of law than therapy).

Here it is … are you ready … this is it:
     No-one can be changed in order to suit you.

There … that was a couple counsellor’s wisdom (perhaps).

Denial of Participation.

You see, a common situation that couples bring into counselling “it’s my partner that’s the problem.  If he/she would only just change then we will be happy.”

Let me reword that comment: “I am not part of this relationship’s problem; this is solely the responsibility of that person sitting there, not me.  I believe that I am not a part of this problem being created or existing, so I will have no part in its resolution.”

True? A little harsh? Real?

I wonder where has the relationship gone when someone announces that they are not part of a relationship’s conflicts. From a systemic point of view, every member of a relationship has an influence over events (whether they are aware of it or not).

So, a person cannot be changed on your behalf.  You cannot bring your partner into counselling and ask the counsellor to change the partner for you.  As much as you desire it, it is not going to happen.  That will be loss for you … but all is not lost.

Acceptance of Participation.

There are two options to consider from this point:-

Option 1) You can make a request of another person to consider altering their behaviour.  That person can choose to comply to your request, decline it, or negotiate further with you (they may not understand their impact on you, for example). After all, you may be a participant in the problem beginning.

Option 2) You can separate from each other (“can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people that you choose to be around”).

 

Couple counselling can be a very effective way to work through insurmountable relationship conflicts … and a good couple counsellor will also help you work through loss & disappointment when you discover that what you want to be achieved cannot be done so in the way you want it to be (“It’s all his fault….”).

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Couple Relationships

How I wrote to my MP regarding the British Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

On Thursday 24th January, 2013, the British government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill for England and Wales was officially introduced to the House of Commons by Culture Secretary Maria Miller.

Great – I thought – now things are progressing to address the unequal, two-tier situation regarding those who have access to civil-partnerships, and those who have access to marriage.

But my mind was bugging me a bit.  Although I am a public supporter of Equal Marriage, and I tweet and Facebook about it, and my counselling practice supports it, I haven’t actually taken any direct action with regards to getting the law changed.  

I know that writing to ones MP can be a common approach, and I had not done that.  Something was holding me back.

So, today, using good CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) skills, I went through a small project of breaking down a task into smaller, manageable chunks … and I thought I’d share my process in case it helps others who might also wish to write to their MPs … if only they knew how.

Step 1 – Who is my Member of Parliament?

This turned out to be easy – visit “They Work for You” at http://www.theyworkforyou.com and pop in your postcode.

Voila – your MP!

Step 2 – What do I write?

I chose to take a slightly tongue-in-cheek approach to my opening.  It’s something I learned ages ago when one needs to get someone’s attention at the beginning of a presentation.  So I opened by redefining what others are saying about redefining marriage 😉

Other than that, I choose to take an approach that communicated my professional beliefs as a couple counsellor, practising in Hampshire and on Skype.  (BACP members – pay attention that we must not use our membership of BACP to communicate or give the impression that BACP endorses us, or our beliefs or practice, in any way.   I included my membership as it was relevant to my position in my letter to my MP).

I’ve included my letter below in case it inspires you to write you own (please use your own words and write from your own points of view – it comes across lots better than a rubber-stamp letter).

[learn_more caption=”Here’s a copy of what I wrote to Mr George Hollingbery”]

Mr George Hollingbery, House of Commons London, SW1A 0AA.

Dear Mr Hollingbery

I URGE YOU NOT TO REDEFINE MARRIAGE … but, instead, to contribute to changing laws so that what marriage represents (the social union and establishment of rights and obligations between two adults who love each other) may be extended to adult couples of the same gender.

To clarify my point: I am for the equal marriage bill. I am for marriage to be available to couples of the same gender (including those who have transitioned gender) but who are currently denied marriage due to archaic (and now somewhat anti-social) laws.
I ask you to vote “yes” in the approaching bill for equal marriage.

As an accredited member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, working in my private Hampshire practice (and world-wide over Skype video) it had been my privilege to work with all sorts of adult couple-relationships: gay/lesbian, straight, mixed-sexuality, mixed-race, same-race, differing-age, same-age, even platonic/professional couple relationships. But especially with respect to intimately-involved couples, it makes no sense to me for British society to deny any two loving adults the institution of marriage. Whilst civil-partnerships were a sensible step forward, I have come to believe how that has also created a two-tier, unequal social-platform. I believe the bill for equal marriage addresses this too (and I would also support civil partnerships for heterosexual couples).

Forgive my slightly tongue-in-cheek opening! It is a little wearing to hear much unfounded “but redefining marriage will destroy the world!” paranoia in the news; it leaves one wondering if, historically, the same unfounded fear-fuelled messages were communicated when couples of different skin colours wished their partnerships to be socially & legally accepted.

I hope you will be a part of this courageous bill to redress the current inequality of marriage and I thank you for your attention to this letter.

Yours sincerely,

Dean A. Richardson, MBACP(accred)

[/learn_more]

 

Step 3 – How do I get my message to my MP?

Easy … in step 1 there’s a link to a page that allows you to send a message directly to your MP (via email I think).

Look for the link WriteToThem.com – write your message (politely and to the point) and send it off.

NB – I began using this form, but as I neared the end of my message I realised that I actually wanted to print my letter on quality paper, put into a nicely prepared envelope  and send it through the mail.  If I’m going to ask my MP to pay attention to how important this matter is, I wanted the quality of my message to get through in the best way as it could.  Just a personal thing 🙂

Step 4 – Send … and wait for a reply.

We’re not guaranteed to receive the reply we want from our MPs.

Many other people will have written with other views – and an MP must do his or her best to represent everyone (though, in reality  he/she may try to represent the majority as this is what got him/her into his job in the first place … and will likely put him/her back there in the next election).

But, if we remember that our MPs are in parliament to represent us, not to simply represent their own personal views, then the more people who support Equal Marriage who write to their MPs, the better the chances that laws will be changed for the better.

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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 LGBT

Mixed-Orientation/Sexuality Relationship Counselling

Relationship Counselling for Mixed Sexual-Orientation Couples.

Couples who are in an intimate, mixed-sexuality relationship or an intimate mixed gender-orientation marriage can experience relationship problems in just the same way as any other couple relationship.

Whist any trained & qualified couples counsellor could be able to work with your relationship,  sometimes mixed-orientation couples choose to work with a systemic couples relationship therapist who specialises in working with mixed-orientation couples.

In Hampshire, and on Skype, that therapist is Dean Richardson.

What is a mixed-sexuality / mixed-orientation relationship?

Not all intimate couple relationships have be composed of people of the same sexuality.  Mixed-sexuality relationships are when both partners identify with a different sexuality to their partner; for example a gay man and a straight woman.

Whilst such relationships work perfectly fine without therapeutic intervention, they can also develop conflicts that are particular to this type of relationships.  As an example, whilst sex does not have to be the centre of an intimate relationship, when sexual intimacy becomes a problem, mixed-sexuality couples may require a special kind of support in helping the couple to find  their own solutions to such difficult problems.

Dean Richardson – Mixed-Orientation Couple Counsellor.

Dean Richardson is a fully qualified and experienced couple relationship therapist.  He specialises in working with LGBT couples and couple relationships of mixed-sexualities and mixed-orientations.  He doesn’t impose traditional values on relationships that are incomparable with heteronormative standards.

Working with Dean means the mixed-sexuality/mixed-gender-identified couple can continue to feel proud of their relationship. They can regard their relationship problems as an interesting obstacle to be worked with curiosity & inspiration – a healthy approach through systemic couples counselling.

You, your partner and Dean will work with the relationship style that you bring to counselling, and we’ll work with resolving the problems that you bring too.

How to begin Couple Counselling.

Long Distance Counselling.

Couples who are separated by distance – or away from Dean’s Portsmouth practice – but who still want couple counselling – may find Dean Richardson’s Skype Couple Counselling Service useful (read more…)

1) Pick a date/time from Dean’s availability.  You and your partner will be attending together – and if you and Dean agree that couple counselling is a suitable form of treatment for you, you will both be attending with your partner for each week’s session.

2) Contact Dean to arrange an assessment for couple counselling – or to discuss with Dean your questions or concerns for couple counselling.

Couples counselling for mixed-orientation couples can be a helpful resource to a couple who are struggling with problems that seem unique and insurmountable.  Choose Dean Richardson to help you attend to your unique relationship … together.

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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.