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Couples: Distance and Distress

Kate O’Donovan

Counsellor and Clinical Social Worker

Relationship Difficulties

Committing to a relationship with another person is one of the most rewarding experiences we can have in our lifetime. However, it can also be one of the most challenging. When we commit to another person and invest in a relationship, our partner becomes a very important person in our life. We become attached to this partner, and the more we become attached to them, the more the relationship matters to us. The more the relationship matters to us, the more we are distressed when there are relational difficulties.

The importance of our partner to us leads us to be more impacted by their actions and words, and also more likely to cause hurt to them in return. Their value to us also leads to great distress when the relationship is not going as well as we had hoped. Couples therapy can assist the couples to reduce conflict and to reconnect with one another leading to a happier relationship and improved quality of life for both parties.

This is relevant for all types of couples, whether this be married or unmarried partners, defacto couples or those living separately, heterosexual or homosexual relationships, step-families or previously married couples, transgendered couples, arranged marriages or even close friendships. All human beings have a desire to be close to their significant others and the greater the degree of closeness or desire for closeness, the greater the chance of relationship distress.

Couples in Distress and Conflict

It is very common in committed relationships to get caught in negative patterns of interacting with one another and to then experience anxiety about the future of the relationship. These repetitive patterns of interacting can distance us from our partner and also cause each partner to engage in arguing, blaming, disengaging, withdrawing and avoidance in order to cope with the distress of distance and conflict. Unfortunately, while some level of conflict in any relationship is to be expected, ongoing conflict can deteriorate any healthy relationship. Often this conflict is the reason a relationship ends.

Couples who are in distress or conflict can often recall happier times together and desperately want to return to this level of closeness. Often the reasons the couple first fell in love are still present but can seem lost in the conflict and subsequent emotional distance that has developed. The support of a counsellor trained in couples therapy can assist couples to break out of these patterns of relating and develop more positive ways of relating to one another.

Couples Wanting Greater Closeness and Connection

Other times, couples may not be in regular conflict but do not feel as emotionally close as they once were or would like to be in the future. There can be many reasons couples end up feeling distant from one another, including the impact of life stressors or changes in life stages. Couples who are distant face the relationship risk of drifting apart from one another, one of the common reasons relationships can end. Couples counselling can assist partners to reconnect with one another, talk more openly and deeply with one another, and to build their emotional and sexual intimacy.

Couples Facing Stress

Couples can find their relationship under stress for many reasons such as:

  • Planned or unplanned pregnancies
  • The birth of a child
  • Illness, disability or loss of a child
  • The death of parents or other family members
  • Conflict and disagreements with in-laws
  • Financial and work stressors
  • Changes in family circumstances (jobs, houses, family configuration)
  • Step-families and blended family
  • Physical illness in one partner
  • Mental health issues of a partner
  • Traumatic life events
  • Sexual difficulties and differences
  • Infidelity and affairs
  • Different levels of need for intimacy and space

During times of stress, counsellors can assist the couple to discuss difficult issues safely, ensuring both parties are heard and understood, and assist the couple to work together towards solutions. Often reducing conflict and improving closeness can also enable couples to be stronger in the face of these stressors. Counselling can also assist couples to work through the hurt they may have caused each other over the course of their relationship.

If you would like to learn more about couples counselling or to make an appointment, please refer to the contact details below.

Kate O’Donovan

Counsellor and Clinical Social Worker

Email: kateodonovancounselling@gmail.com
Telephone: 0414 509 155

Mt Lawley Counselling Centre
13 Alvan St, Mount Lawely, WA, 6050

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