How therapy can help your marriage or partnership
Humans learn and grow through relationships. We need to feel loved and valued in order to thrive.
Some cultures believe that it takes a whole community to support a couple in their relationship. Today many couples face this task on their own and find themselves overwhelmed by the issues they face. Therapy may be able to provide the necessary holding and support for a couple who feel stuck or are embroiled in turmoil.
Our relationships with significant others are very different to the relationships we have with friends and work colleagues. There are reasons why we notice and feel attracted to a particular person. And also why that one person can “push your buttons” like no-one else.
Each individual in a couple has developed a template for relationships, influenced by a complex range of factors in their personal history. These dynamics are not always clear to the couple so therapy can shed some light on the hidden terrain and help the couple navigate their unique relationship landscape.
The role of the therapist is to observe the dynamic and bring to attention what appears to be happening. The therapist is not there to judge or assign “blame” to either individual. Instead the couple are supported to explore and reflect on their relationship, and examine what does or doesn’t contribute to a healthy dynamic.
Some couples will decide that they need to separate. Others may decide that there is potential for change and growth in their relationship and will continue to work on what is difficult.
Even if the decision is to separate, therapy can help the couple grieve for their relationship and work towards a healthy separation. This is particularly important if there are children to be considered.
Relationship therapy, or couple therapy, is when a couple (heterosexual or same-sex) see a therapist together. You might be:
Whatever the reasons that bring you to therapy, the alchemy generated between two individuals is much more than the sum of its parts, and has enormous potential both to destroy and to heal the relationship.
Different couples may meet the same challenge in different ways, so therapy is a very personal, tailor-made process. The therapist doesn’t hold the solution for you, but they should have the skills to help you find your own way forward.
Working with a therapist who has a variety of therapeutic tools at their disposal can be very effective. Creative and imaginative techniques can reveal rich layers in a relationship. They could involve some experiential work: sand trays, role-playing etc. This is not “playing,” but using metaphor to expose what may lie hidden in the unconscious of your relationship.
Clients who have used these different methods are always surprised at the depth of knowledge they come away with.
It can be difficult getting both partners to commit to couple therapy. Couples who walk through the door together have already made a significant step.
If your partner is unwilling to try therapy, or is struggling to attend (for whatever reason), it could be helpful for them to:
I’m happy to discuss any of these options with you.
If your partner is really reluctant to attend then it’s not productive to coerce them. The issue then may be the feelings that you are left with, and it could be very helpful to get support for yourself.
Once therapy starts, for an individual or a couple, boundaries will be agreed which will be an integral part of the safety and trust which supports the process. These boundaries may determine whether individual sessions can become couple sessions at a later date, or whether either partner of a couple in therapy can have separate individual sessions as well. These issues need to be considered carefully with your therapist.
If one partner in a couple doesn’t turn up for couple therapy,in most cases the session would need to be rearranged (and you would be charged for the cancelled session).
Alternatively, it might be useful to use the session to explore the impact of the absence with the partner who is present. It could represent the reality of what is happening between the two people. The issues discussed in this session would be shared with the absent partner when both parties met again.
Once a couple embark on divorce proceedings it is often (though not always) a sign that all communication has broken down. A legal battle can be costly, both financially and emotionally, and the impact on any children can be significant.
Thankfully, the use of mediation services, or a collaborative divorce approach, is on the increase. Many couples find that working on their emotional conflicts in couple therapy enables them to approach the legal proceedings in a less adversarial way.
Therapists are not lawyers or mediators and cannot advise clients on legal issues or processes. However, they can support a couple through the emotional turmoil, and often help to reduce the overall cost of the whole process. And if children are involved, therapy can also help a couple to parent in a healthy way, despite the pain they themselves are experiencing.