I’ve been noticing friends wanting to talk about their relationship issues more frequently due to Covid-19 and forced proximity with their partners. Under such scrutiny, issues may appear that seem small, insignificant and would disappear on their own, but these may actually have a large and lasting impact on the relationship. Many times, these couples feel that they do not need to seek help for such issues. It makes me wonder how I can help them gain awareness of the benefits of couples counselling and support them appropriately during these trying times.
Who is couples counselling for?
Couples counselling is specially for people who are in a romantic relationship and want to seek a deeper understanding of the dynamics of their relationship to attain satisfaction. On the other hand, couples who are facing issues ranging from emotional to external challenges may also seek couples counselling, as these issues can be deep-seated and difficult to work through on their own. A relationship does not fall apart overnight; and couples counselling should not be the last resort to salvage the relationship. Instead, it can be used across all stages of the relationship to forge stronger bonds, manage expectations, and learn ways to better cope with challenges together.
What is couples counselling about?
Individual therapy recognises how external circumstances can be internalised and become dominant forces which affect personality and control behaviour. However, for couples/family therapy, these dominant forces are located externally and changing the structure of the dynamics is important for both parties to witness any changes within themselves. It is also important to note that couples counselling does not always mean that the therapist will meet both parties together for all sessions but might meet them individually to gain a clearer understanding of the relationship issues at hand and how the parties interpret these within a safe environment.
What to expect in couples counselling?
The first session is an assessment stage where a range of questions will be asked to gather background information from you and your partner on the history of your relationship and its current state. For the 2nd and 3rd session, we usually meet with partners individually to understand your relationship histories and help us identify your specific needs. In subsequent sessions, we bring couples back together to track your interaction patterns and work on your relationship issues together. During this stage, you are encouraged to express your feelings honestly and share past experiences together to address relationship distresses that you went through before. Some examples of distresses may be communication issues, parenting-style conflicts, values differences, and more. The first few sessions may seem confusing and uncomfortable for you as there is a need to acknowledge stressors in your relationship and address difficult conversation topics. However, addressing these differences is essential as it would help you gain better awareness and control of your relationship. There may be times we might request to meet individually again if issues arise that may cause you to feel unsafe or have a lack of vulnerability during the sessions.
Paramount to the growth of your relationship, it will also be beneficial for both parties who are going through couples counselling to have individual sessions of their own (not with their couples therapist) to move towards individual growing edges.
Benefits of couples counselling
Couples counselling can help you discover the root cause of your major points of conflicts. These will provide you with the opportunity to increase the level of shared support once you recognise the breakdowns within the relationship. It also removes unhelpful coping styles such as avoidance and emotional detachment to help you and your partner restore emotional strength and gain relationship resiliency. During sessions, you will learn more about each other through love language, knowing each other’s trigger points and coping styles to encourage better support and acceptance of one another. You will also learn more effective communication patterns and conflict resolution practices to improve the way you communicate and de-escalate arguments. Couples counselling has the capacity to provide you with an environment to heal the hurt in the relationship through removing hindrances and emotional barriers, to restore lost trust and to regain emotional and physical intimacy. Through a heightened understanding about your relationship and the underlying problems that might cause stress or conflicts, it eventually creates a shared meaning of your relationship and helps you to move towards instead of away from each other.
Quoting from John Gottman (Ph.D.), “When there is conflict in the relationship, it’s not about getting the upper hand. It’s about holding hands.” Couples counselling is not going to be easy but what we need is a leap of faith and trust that we can work through this together, hand in hand.