Choosing to stay in a long-term, committed relationship can be immensely rewarding and fulfilling. Statistics shows that those in long-term relationships often benefit from reduced mental illness, live longer and are overall healthier. This is particularly true for men. However, living alongside another and enjoying an optimal relationship almost invariably takes some effort and work, with some periods feeling easier and others needing more concentration and focus. Couples may choose to come to couple counselling as a health check to improve their current functioning or to resolve a specific crisis in their relationship. Often couples come for counselling when one or the other of them is unsure whether their relationship has a viable future.
I draw on my Systemic and Family Therapy training in my work with couples. In couples counselling, my clients are not the two individuals in front of me but the RELATIONSHIP between the two. I work from a position of neutrality. This means that it is not my role to take sides or see one perspective as more valid than the other but to be equally interested in both. Being curious about the underlying thoughts, beliefs, wishes and feelings that motivate each partner’s behaviour contributes to my ability to be neutral. If I am doing my job well, each partner should leave the sessions feeling understood by me and that their perspective has been represented.
In couples work, it is often the presence of another (the therapist) that creates enough safety for couples to talk about contentious issues which they have avoided addressing in the past. In addition, having a therapist present can create a listening space where it become easier to hear what the other partner is saying without becoming embroiled in defensive or overwhelming feelings. Furthermore, the therapist can re-phrase what is being said or represent the issue in slightly different way and in one which is easier for the listening partner to hear.
I see my role as helping to generate between couples an understanding that it is possible to have extremely varying experiences of the same event. However, both experiences have equal validity and carry equal weight. Being able to shuttle between one’s own perspective and that of their partner without trying to arrive at an absolute truth of who is right and who is wrong is a valuable skill in relationships. This avoids blame. Blame is a common feature in relationships where there are difficulties and/or conflict. However, feeling blamed invariably leads us to feeling defensive. When we feel defensive it is difficult to access our thinking minds calmly and we often instinctively respond emotionally to protect our sense of self and esteem.
I facilitate the development of relationship skills through the therapy sessions and also by suggesting homework that couples can undertake between sessions. This homework usually concentrates on exercises that focus on communication and re-introduces play and affection to the relationship.
Couples therapy often benefits from 6-8 sessions, held at weekly to fortnightly intervals. Some couples choose to remain in therapy for longer.
‘Choosing to be together and build an intimate sexual relationship is commonly called commitment. Commitment is not about the length of time you’ve been together; we all know couples who have been together without respect or mutuality, for forty years. Commitment is about choosing to be there; to be intimate, open and vulnerable; to do your best to be available for the other person. The value of healthy, intimate relationships is in their power to heal and change us. They empower us and cause us to grow’.
If you would like to arrange an initial session or contact me about any of the other services mentioned in these pages
I practice within Sheffield from a venue in S7.