I am an experienced marriage and couples counsellor. Click here for downloadable leaflet
Relationships can be one of the most difficult aspects of our lives. Sharing our life with another requires a level of compromise and willingness to change that can be tough at times. Relationships inevitably provoke us into being confronted by our own limitations and we all tenaciously resist change because it’s so uncomfortable. It’s not then surprising that many relationships have to, on occasion, go to the edge of breakdown before change is faced and they can renew themselves.
All relationships can be improved and when difficulties occur the earlier they are addressed the better, too often the attempt at repair is left until it’s, close to, or is too late. Couples counselling is a very dynamic form of counselling, because, with both parties present, there is immediately a lot of material to work on. Both in terms of the different perspectives each brings, as well as the reactions that each has towards the other.
Each has their own version of what has happened and what is happening. Both have their validity, but what often happens is that each person feels they are right and that the other is wrong. So one of the first steps in the process is to provide space for both sides to really be heard.
The next step is often to explore each party’s perspective in more detail to start to really understand where they are coming from. What are the feelings, the needs and imperatives that make up each person’s perspective? Exploring this, a new awareness and understanding of the other can emerge and it becomes possible to see that each person’s hurt, anger, distress or withdrawal, emerge from deep underlying needs, not from any ‘wrongness’ or ‘badness’.
Often, when some of this hurt and distress is acknowledged, it starts to be possible to see how there has been a vicious circle operating of reciprocal hurt, blame, resentment and attack. Having a third party in the room to witness it all and able to point it out, helps to raise awareness of what’s happening. This is the start of each person taking responsibility for themselves, of owning their feelings instead of blaming the other for them.
If there is one saying which provides the truth at the heart of relationship problems, it is, “what you dislike and reject in the other is what you dislike and reject in yourself”. After all, we can only understand another to the depth that we understand ourselves.
Should couples stay together?
There are no rules! The question is around what does the relationship mean? What are the motivations for staying or leaving? The agenda of counselling is about improving the relationship, the ability to be honest, open and respectful of each other, through increasing awareness around how it works. After this, it is about choice.
However, I do see relationships as the anvil on which each person gets to ‘forge’ a deeper knowledge of themselves, by going through the ‘fire’ of the difficulties that relationships provoke. Nothing else in life provides such a powerful mirror to ourselves. It is through increasing openness and intimacy, where each inevitably risks being deeply hurt, that we can create the unique ground in which love can blossom.
We can’t ‘do’ Change
We can’t change by willing it with our head alone, especially if we have lots of internal conflict. Change is governed by the innate developmental wisdom of our subconscious self. It needs our efforts to develop our awareness and understanding as well as our efforts to take responsibility for ourselves. This needs us to explore and get to know the whole of ourselves, knowing more about what we feel, becoming clearer about what we think and listening to our bodies, its tensions and its wisdom.
This enables us to see what we are defending, what our resistance to change is all about. Usually this is around protecting ourselves from being re-wounded in some way. Support and new awareness and insight, helps us to resolve the issues that keep us stuck and separate. As we know ourselves better we can create a more honest, less confused, more respectful relationships. From this, care and love can re-emerge. Again, we cannot ‘do’ or choose to love, we can only work to dismantle what is in the way of it (to paraphrase Rumi).
By increasing our self-knowledge, reconciling our past and slowly dismantling our defensive walls, we can live more in the present and less in fantasy (regret and blame from the past, fear and negative expectations of the future). We can live with more clarity about what the whole of us wants. With less defensiveness and conflict there is more room for intimacy and compromise and our relationships can become more spontaneous, satisfying and enjoyable.
The different parts of ourselves love in different ways, there is ‘feeling love’, ‘thinking love’ and ‘physical love’. Then there is also a love that we embody in moments of openness and freedom, which is generous and unselfish and such a wonderful gift. A gift that comes when we have resolved the obstacles that want and need our attention.
Please feel free to phone me for an initial discussion if you would like.
“Journey of the Heart” by John Welwood
“Transformation through Intimacy” by Robert Masters