Making the decision to seek relationship counselling often isn’t easy. Understandably you and your partner may have lots of questions and perhaps even uncertainty about whether relationship counselling can help. The information below gives you an overview of some of the more common reasons why people seek relationship counselling. We also explain how relationship counselling can help you and your partner to feel more fulfilled and satisfied in your relationship.
What are some of the common reasons that people seek relationship counselling?
A myth seems to exist that when a couple seeks relationship counselling their relationship must be really struggling. Relationship counselling can be helpful for all sorts of scenarios though – your relationship doesn’t need to be “on the rocks” to benefit and relationship counselling certainly doesn’t have to spell the end for you and your partner. Some of the more common reasons that people seek relationship counselling include:
- Difficulties communicating effectively
- Falling out of love, growing apart or feeling like you’ve lost that “spark”
- Feeling disconnected, resentful, bored or unfulfilled in your relationship
- Uncertainty about the future of your relationship
- Navigating separation
- Arguing over the same things, feeling like arguments get out of hand or constant bickering
- Problems with trust
- Financial pressures
- Adjusting to being parents
- Troubles with extended family
- Infidelity and affairs, including cyber-sex
- Support for coping with external stressors like work related stress, illness or relocating
- Support when one or both people are experiencing mental health issues
How can relationship counselling help?
Relationship counselling can help you and your partner to:
- Enhance your communication skills
- Understand and resolve conflict
- Rekindle feelings of romance, attraction, fulfilment and excitement in your relationship
- Build trust and emotional connection
- Understand and work through individual issues that may be affecting your relationship
- Create a safe space for open, honest communication
- Acknowledge each other’s needs and find ways of meeting them
- Identify and renew areas of your relationship that have been neglected
- Gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your partner
- Reinvigorate your relationship by spending focused, quality time with each other
It’s not a given that we know how to communicate effectively. In a world full of distractions we can sometimes forget to be fully present with ourselves and with others. In important relationships this can create distance, misunderstandings, hurt, loneliness, fear, resentment and angry feelings.
Differences in communication styles can also cause difficulties in relationships. These differences can stem from growing up in different family environments, differences in personality and also differences in the way we are socialised as males and females.
Relationship counselling can help you and your partner to communicate more effectively by:
- Helping you to figure out the barriers that get In the way of you and your partner understanding each other
- Learning about the style of communication that suits your relationship best
- Finding ways to make communicating a positive and beneficial aspect of your relationship
- Understanding each other’s needs and being able to discuss them with respect
- Exploring how body language, words and actions all contribute to communicating well in a close relationship
Feeling disconnected emotionally from the person we most want to feel close and connected to is painful. It can leave us feeling hurt, empty, alone, hopeless, angry, and at times, devastated. Some people protest against the loss of connection by demanding, complaining, criticising or attacking their partner. Other people hide their fear or hurt by withdrawing. They move away from the painful feelings and may appear emotionally shut-down, aloof or dismissive.
By identifying these and other patterns in your relationship, you and your partner can begin to feel more emotionally connected. Relationship counselling can help you to:
- Figure out how and why emotional distance happens in your relationship
- Understand what gets in the way of you and your partner reconnecting when you feel emotionally withdrawn from each other (for example, after conflict)
- Learn how to reconnect or “make-up” with your partner in a way that actually enhances your relationship
- Understand each other’s preferences for space and closeness and how differences in these areas can contribute to ongoing difficulties
- Recognise that ups and downs in relationships are normal and can be navigated without necessarily leading to emotional distance from each other
- Find ways to make time for emotional and physical intimacy
- Find ways to prioritise your relationship and your partner
For the large majority of couples conflict is par for the course. As Dr Russ Harris says, “There are two types of couples in this world: those who fight, and those who you don’t know very well”. Even the most well-adjusted and satisfied couples argue or experience tension in their relationship from time-to-time.
Although most of us find conflict unpleasant, it can be a useful and productive pathway to growth for a couple. If approached in a respectful, balanced way, conflict can create opportunities to share our thoughts, feelings and opinions and allows us to learn more about our partner. Conflict allows each person to express what is important to them.
Relationship conflict occurs for many reasons including:
- Differences in opinions, ideas or approaches
- Clashes in priorities and values
- Problems communicating
- Difficulties with trust
- Unconscious behaviours or feelings that create tension
- Bottling up how you really feel
- Outside influences such as work stress, family issues, or substance use
- Difficulty coping with strong emotions
- Unresolved issues from the past
Dr John Gottman, a leading research expert in romantic relationships, explains that during conflict sometimes one or both people can become “flooded”. Flooding occurs when the thinking part of the brain goes ‘off-line’ because we feel swamped by our emotions. If this happens, it is very difficult to deal with conflict in a healthy and helpful manner. Rather than being able to talk about how we feel, we tend to attack, withdraw, shut-down or freeze. Relationship counselling can help you to figure out your personal triggers for feeling flooded. Together with your counsellor, you and your partner can find effective ways to turn down the emotional intensity of your arguments and find a healthier path through conflict.
Adjusting to being parents
Becoming a parent is such a personal experience – fraught with expectations, responsibility, huge adjustments and of course, a lot of love. Perfection is not possible in human interactions, but being available, caring, and actively providing children with love, acceptance, safety and nurturing can be enough. Children with special needs are not different to other children in this respect, however, the level of and length of engagement can be quite different for parents.
Just as children come in all shapes and sizes, and have varying personalities and needs, so too do parents. This means that as parents we each have different styles of parenting. When a couple has different beliefs about child rearing, conflict can occur. Relationship counselling can help you to understand more about you and your partner’s parenting style, what your own needs are as individuals and as a couple, and how these needs interact with the needs of your family. Understanding the unique needs of the child, as well as the impact of sibling dynamics can also help.
Infidelity and affairs including cyber-sex
One of the most painful and hurtful situations in a relationship is infidelity, especially when it has been agreed that the sexual relationship will be exclusive. Being ‘cheated on’ creates primal feelings of rejection, undesirability, jealousy and a huge breach of trust. Relationship counselling can help you and your partner to:
- Explore what was happening in the relationship when the affair occurred
- Address the deeper feelings and impacts of the infidelity
- Explore whether forgiveness and trust are attainable
- Change behaviours to have more open communication
Call us to book an appointment with our experienced relationship counsellor
We are fortunate to have three experienced and knowledgeable relationship counsellors on our team here at Inner Melbourne Clinical Psychology, Dr Mariel Sanchez-Rockliffe, Georgia Pierakos and Liz Storey. Their practical approaches create a safe and comfortable environment in which to explore difficulties and realise positive change.
To book an appointment with Mariel, Georgia or Liz, call our support team on (03) 9376 1958 or complete our online booking form.