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  • Sonia Neale

Couples on the Couch

One of the most interesting and vital parts of my training as a counsellor involved completing an intensive training course in Couples Counselling and Family Therapy, which is helpful for both heterosexual couples and LGBTIQ relationships to stay together. On the other hand, therapy can also aid the dissolution of the relationship in an amicable fashion where the couple might not necessarily end up friends, but at least they are not bitter enemies. I have seen friends go through the divorce process as bitter enemies and it is not pretty for the family. The only party who appeared to benefit was the law firm.

Sometimes there is no safe place for couples to work out their differences at home. It’s difficult to open up and reveal your innermost and vulnerable thoughts to your partner if they are not respected, taken seriously, or are used against you. Therapy can be that safe space.

Once upon a time, when you and your partner met, you may have experienced that honeymoon phase of the relationship, the ecstasy and the bliss of togetherness that transcends everything, but somehow gets compromised when “real life” takes over. Things like rent, mortgage or debt, raising the kids from babies to teenagers, the in-laws, the job and all the other sharp wedges that can come between a couple.

If your relationship is compromised but you remain committed to trying to make it work, sometimes a third party, a neutral person, a Couples Counsellor is needed to ask the right questions, to the right degree, in the right manner and at the right time. This is for the couple to examine the way they communicate and resolve conflict in a safe space for both to explore the whole reason they both fell in love and how that love and desire can still flourish in the face of adversity.

Some golden rules of couples counselling can include:

  • Don’t shout (Keep your voice level and tone as respectable as possible.)

  • Don’t name-call (Resorting to name-calling is harmful and doesn’t engender any sort of respectful conversation.)

  • Don’t bring up the past (Don’t bring up any unresolved issues that are not relevant to the present conversation.)

  • Blame is not helpful (This is particularly difficult as it’s hard to see one’s own faults in a stressful situation as clearly as the other person involved perceives them to be and vice versa.)

Some questions the therapist may ask are:

  • What initially attracted you to each other in the first place?

  • What do you find most fulfilling about your relationship?

  • In what ways are you similar and in what ways are you different?

  • What things do you do together?

  • What things do you do by yourself?

  • What methods have you worked out to find a way to accommodate or compromise on these together and separate differences?

This questioning line is not an interrogation, but a gentle teasing and pulling apart of how things work or don’t work in your relationship. It’s a space where both parties are neither blamed or shamed for any shortcomings.

On the other side, there are times when therapy can help you successfully separate your relationship from each other and not rip each other’s hearts out in the process, or have lawyers involved. Especially if you have children. Children can survive and even thrive in an “amicable separation/divorce.” Respectful role-modelling of separation can create a sense of safety and security for kids, even if their parents won’t be living together anymore. This is not easy and acknowledged as such during therapy.

Whether you and your partner choose to stay together or separate, it can be helpful to acknowledge that you once shared some really good times together, especially to the children. Counselling couples gives me a front row seat into other peoples lives. I greatly admire their strengths and resilience to try to solve what they need to do in order to forward their lives. Most of us are in a relationship of some sort, and sometimes all of us could do with a shift in perspective to help us get to where we want to be.

Photo credits: and stock photos

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