You know that you and your partner or spouse have been arguing a lot recently. You also know that one or both of you is unhappy. The same disagreements or communication problems seem to come up again and again and at least one of you probably feels pretty resentful.
Perhaps the situation is causing you to experience periods of depression, anger or anxiety. Maybe one (or both) of you believe your relationship has come to a crossroads. You may even feel that you’re ‘stuck’ or that you’ve reached a point where you’re not sure if you can keep going.
How do you solve this problem?
How does couples counselling work?
Couples counselling, marriage counselling or relationship counselling are terms used to describe what a form of therapy. It involves seeing a counsellor whose role is to get the couple to talk about their problems. The basic concept, found in all forms of talk therapy, is that talking and opening up about difficulties in life makes it easier to resolve them.
This is the purpose of couples or marriage counselling: to improve your relationship. However, some people believe that counselling is shameful, embarrassing, or somehow makes them less of a husband or wife. For example, they may think that counselling is a sign that they “can’t deal” with a situation.
Some people may also believe that divorce is to be frowned upon or is somehow disgraceful. Others may believe that relationship counselling can’t help, or that you don’t need it.
The medical profession believes that couples counselling is often an effective form of therapy that can help people with their problems and lead happier lives. As with all forms of therapy, it’s not guaranteed to work for everyone. However, even going so far as to simply try couple’s counselling may lead to improvements in a relationship, while being unlikely to cause further harm.
Why don’t more people try marriage counselling?
One of the barriers to getting help is that people may have pre-conceived ideas about what happens during couples counselling. In fact, you might be surprised by what really happens in a counselling session. Here are some common misconceptions about relationship counselling.
A counsellor will not take sides
You might fear that a counsellor will take a side. Rest assured, a counsellor’s job is not to decide who has done more wrong or who is most at fault.
It might be that you feel vulnerable during a session. This is a normal reaction, especially if you think your partner is better at putting into words how they feel.
In truth, a professional relationship or marriage counsellor is trained to remain neutral. If one of you finds it harder to talk, then the counsellor will find a way to help both of you communicate better.
A qualified counsellor will not assume that someone’s feelings are less important simply because they happen to speak less.
A counsellor will not have an agenda (other than to help)
A counsellor will not have a pre-set agenda about the result of the counselling. Instead, the counsellor’s aim is to help a couple understand their feelings. Their intention is to help them better deal with, and hopefully resolve, their problems.
Counselling may still not work for various reasons
Professional counsellors are highly skilled and well-trained. However, you may come across a counsellor that, for whatever reason, doesn’t suit your style. For the therapy to be effective, it is important that you ‘click’ with your counsellor.
If you feel that the counselling process isn’t working for you, and you’ve made this clear to your counsellor, then you should consider whether anything has changed. If things in your relationship are still the same old way, then you are entitled to look for another counsellor. It’s important to keep this in mind and to not dismiss counselling as ineffective simply because your first choice didn’t work for you.
Individual counselling could (in some) cases be better
If you are still worried about couples counselling, or you’ve tried it and it doesn’t seem to work for you, then it’s worth considering individual counselling.
Although this form of counselling focuses on one person, it can still help to improve your relationship. For example, individual counselling can help you be a better communicator. This is one way in which it could help if listening or communication is a problem in your relationship.
Further steps in marriage counselling
Here are some more important steps to keep in mind before and during couple’s counselling.
- Don’t leave it too late. If there’s a serious relationship problem, deal with it now. Many counsellors find that relationship problems are made worse because they’ve been put off and not dealt with for years.
- Set realistic expectations for what you want to achieve. For example, instead of thinking “I want to fix my marriage” think “I want to work on feeling comfortable during intimacy and sex” or “I want to come up with a way that stops us from arguing about money”.
- Open honesty and communication are key — and can be highly confronting. You may be quite surprised to find just how much having a professional counsellor in the room can change the dynamic.
- Counselling is about changing problems between two people. A relationship counsellor is not there to change your partner or spouse.
- Many people in couple’s counselling initially think that their partner is the source of their problems. It’s very easy to see things from just one point of view (that’s may be one reason why you’re seeing a counsellor), so be prepared for a long, hard look deep inside yourself. You may realise that you too need to change. Be prepared to not respond negatively to that realisation.
- Seeking marriage counselling does not automatically mean you are on your way to divorce. In fact, the opposite is usually true. By engaging in counselling you are actively taking important steps to improving your relationship.
- Marriage counselling is nobody’s business but yours and your partner’s.
For marriage counselling to work, you both need to approach it with an open mind and a willingness to change and work on the things that are causing you distress.
Importantly, there is no shame, stigma or embarrassment about relationship counselling. As mentioned, counselling in no way means you are ‘less of a man’ or are not properly fulfilling your role as a partner. Nor is couple’s counselling an automatic pathway to divorce. Counselling is unlikely to cause more problems, and is in fact likely to lead to improvements in your relationship.
Concerned? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Want to know where else you can get help? Find out how to access additional community support.
The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.