Couples therapy. Does it mean your relationship is over?
Is Marriage Counselling a good or bad thing? This is an interesting question, and it was posed by a client the other day. It got me thinking. I know it is a positive thing, but how many people still believe that coming to couples therapy signifies a negative?
There are four general reasons that couples come to me for couples therapy.
- Couples seeking therapy not for change but to tick the box that they have attended therapy and can accept the decision that their relationship is over.
- Those who are on the fence about whether the relationship will work or if they will separate. They hope that I will have a magic wand to turn it around for them and change their minds or help them feel alright to move forward.
- Couples who genuinely want help with their relationship because of a crisis event or because the relationship has declined to a point where they are unhappy and want to work at it. They have no interest in ending the relationship.
- And finally, those who see marriage counselling as a genuine asset in having a healthy relationship and haven’t encountered significant challenges yet but want the tools to make sure they have them when needed. These couples may have noticed some minor problems and jump on them straight away. They are proactive in maintaining their relationship.
All these couples are welcome. For the couples in the first two categories, well I don’t have a wand and I can’t make them feel crazy in love again, at least not in one session. I can help offer the option of exploring whether they wish to put the effort in to turning their relationship around. Sometimes it is about closure for them and ending things on a reasonably healthy note.
Sometimes, it is a one-off, “we tried couples therapy and it didn’t work” so we can now end the relationship knowing there is nothing to be done. For people in this space, they often feel relief that they have seen a professional counsellor and they can choose to leave the relationship having ticked that box.
For others, they see hope in the work we do and will engage in the process in the hope of saving the relationship.
All of these are valid reasons to attend therapy. It is sad to see a relationship that once had love end or be causing so much pain to people. Whatever it is, we try and get an outcome that works for each person if possible.
Couples who fall into the third category have a great chance at getting a healthy relationship from the counselling process. There are three points that I believe make this possible.
- The couple are willing to take responsibility for their individual role in the relationship and be ready to make changes that they need to aide in creating a healthy relationship.
- They are diligent about attending sessions and completing the assigned homework from each session.
- They attend counselling until I tell them we are done. My job is to work myself out of a job! Couples who allow the process to complete fully will have the best chance at having a solid, resilient relationship.
I can’t tell you how often couples present for a session and tell me that they just didn’t have time for the homework. Occasionally this is valid, life throws things at us. But usually, what couples are saying when they say this is, “We don’t have time for our relationship”. Why not? If it is a priority, then you make it look like a priority.
Most people wouldn’t dream of not putting effort into their careers or their children. Things that matter, things that we want to work and be successful, those things are a priority. That includes the romantic relationship.
The other thing that is so common for me is that couples will typically attend somewhere between 3 to 6 sessions and then disappear. That’s awesome if we have finished the work we want to do. Sometimes we have. I will tell couples if we have.
I am the mechanic for your relationship. If you put your car in for a repair, you don’t drive off after one thing has been fixed. The mechanic looks the car over, tells you what needs fixing, and you then commit to leaving your car there to get fixed. You want a reliable car. You collect it when it is running smoothly again. You don’t take it part way through thinking enough has been done for it to be reliable.
So too with our relationships. I will look it over, tell you what needs to be looked at and then work with you to get those parts healthy and to meet the goals you have come to me with. I will then tell you we are done.
What I will usually tell couples is that we are making good progress. I can see it, they can feel it. Let’s space our sessions further apart. Let’s see how that goes and what problems if any arise. From there, we will lengthen out the time between counselling sessions until I tell couples, “You are really good at your relationship. There is nothing that needs work with me. Go, fly free, enjoy your relationship, come back if you get stuck but otherwise, you’ve got this”!
Success to me is working myself out of a job. Please allow me to do that if you decide to work with me.
Some couples attend a few sessions and then come sporadically, if at all, then tell themselves that their relationship can’t be repaired or that counselling doesn’t work. Might as well diet one week, eat junk the next and then believe that you can’t lose weight because the diet doesn’t work.
Couples therapy is a process. Follow the process and invest in your future by making your relationship strong.
That brings me to the couples who fall into the 4th category. These couples want a healthy relationship, and they see the value in investing in their relationship from the start and learning the skills to support the love they have for each other.
These couples are so easy to work with. They have a lot of love and therefore a lot of motivation to make change. They still want to make changes to make their partner happy. Rarely here is there hurt to be worked through which means we are simply learning. Learning about each other on a different level, learning skills.
So much easier to build on something good than to take something apart and rebuild at the same time!
During the covid lockdowns, moving to Zoom to support people, I was fortunate that I started to work with people in countries other than Australia. What I see in other countries is a belief that therapy is a valid tool, a good thing to use. Therapy is not seen as a bad thing or a last resort. It is something embraced as being an important investment in mental health and relationships. “My therapist” is something that is spoken of openly in many countries. It is not shameful or an indicator of weakness or problems.
I love relationship work. Couples therapy is incredibly rewarding and strangely enough, can be fun. There are a lot of laughs between the tears some days with my clients. Whatever space couples are in, I welcome them to work with me and hope that I can help them get an outcome they want.
I wish couples would see that coming in early in their relationship gives them a high chance of having a healthy relationship, the work is way more fun, the work is much easier and the time invested is significantly less in counselling sessions. Wins all round.
In answer to my question at the start, “Does couples therapy mean your relationship is over”? No. It means you are taking charge and going to empower yourself with knowledge to try and get the relationship you want.
Here if you need.