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Relationship Counselling: What's involved?

Daniel Mills

Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Perth, Western Australia

Learning how to maintain and get the best out of our long-term intimate relationship isn't something we all devote deliberate time to, at least until there is a crisis. Busy lives and everyday responsibilities such as work, raising children and domestic chores as well as trying to make time to exercise, socialize and pursue hobbies can leave us with little time and energy left over.

For those of us wanting to develop our relationship and maintain closeness with our partner over decades or even a lifetime, it is important to devote sufficient time and attention to making this possible. It is after all, along with having and raising children, one of the most significant, challenging and potentially rewarding experiences available to us.

Even couples in strong and committed relationships find themselves at times reaching the limits of coping and may struggle to deal with personal as well as family and relationship issues.

At such times common myths, "pop psychology" and well meaning family and friends aren't always helpful sources of information. Our desire for quick fixes and a tendency to put things off can prevent us from developing a deeper understanding of how our relationship works and what we can do to do to keep it in good shape.

Despite similarities, each partner has a different background, family, history, personality, needs, dreams and desires and at some point these differences will inevitably lead to conflict. Ongoing conflicts are often due to an inability to successfully negotiate differences.

Finding ways to successfully address these differences and work through them is one of the main ways couples develop a closer and more connected bond. Avoiding working through difficulties results in couples missing out on important opportunities to grow and change in their relationship.

Believing our partner is responsible for relationship problems often leads us to actively try and prove this to them or 'tread water' waiting for them to address their issues. An alternative way to consider relationship difficulties is that they are more often than not the result of unhelpful patterns that develop between two people over time that become habitual and repetitive. As such, both people contribute to the maintenance of these patterns and both may be unaware that either one can change their part at any time thereby creating a shift in the old patterns.

These well established patterns can result in difficulty addressing important issues and feelings and trigger a cycle of escalating conflict that leads to a disconnection and loss of closeness. Although couples may continue to function in many of their roles together and live in the same house, they may also become emotional strangers to one another as their resentment poisons other areas of their lives together.

At this point it is often helpful to engage a couple counsellor who can help to identify existing patterns so that they can be more clearly understood.

Some of the helpful capacities that can be learned in counselling and through practice include:

The main indicator to couples that these skills need to be learned is repetitive and circular conflicts that escalate without progress.

The counsellor's different perspective helps in identifying each partner's role in existing patterns and their consequences. The couple can also learn, with some guidance, how to shift their own perspective thereby developing their capacity to look at problems with fresh eyes.

Having couple counselling involves a deliberate effort to address relationship issues in a semi-structured way. The regular time and place that counseling provides creates a consistency that increases the relational focus in the absence of distractions and outside interference. The slowing down of usual interactions, as well as the counsellor's input and ability to interrupt the usual patterns of escalation and repetitive arguments, can also be helpful in generating new discussions with different outcomes.

Whether you want to improve your ability to address ongoing conflicts, clarify future directions, or find ways to move closer to one another, couple therapy can be a space to explore what otherwise may be put off, or has deteriorated into unhelpful or destructive interactions, or stony silence.

It is important to make sure that the counsellor you choose has an approach and personality that feels right for you and this may take several sessions to clarify.

If you would like more information you can contact Daniel by telephone or email.

M: 0402 573 548

Daniel Mills
Counsellor and Psychotherapist

Mount Lawley Counselling Centre
13 Alvan Street
Mount Lawley (Perth), WA 6050

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