Relationships are the interpersonal connections that we establish from the moment we are born and are experienced throughout the course of our lifetime. Once developed, these connections often become meaningful and may impact upon various aspects of our lives, including how we feel about ourselves and others. Relationships encompass various bonds, including familial attachments, romantic, sexual and professional relations.
Typically, relationships go through ‘ups and downs’ characterised by periods of happiness or distress, which can vary in length and frequency. Not all relationships are unhealthy based upon the appearance of conflict, which can sometimes help strengthen bonds when overcome in healthy ways. However, when issues become increasingly problematic, some may find it difficult to resolve matters and subsequently start feeling or behaving in negative ways, which prevent them from moving forward
Common issues within couples
According to theory, humans require healthy attachments and love in order to ‘self-actualise’, or function well within society. Secure relationships may increase an individual’s confidence, self-esteem, happiness and overall wellbeing. Hence, when relationships experience ruptures, the emotional impact may have negative effects, comparable to symptoms of a physical ailment. Common types of relationship issues include:
- Infidelity – One of the primary reasons for seeking couples counselling is the experience of emotional or sexual infidelity within the relationship. This may be mutual infidelity where both partners have been unfaithful or one-sided where one partner has been unfaithful and in some instances, infidelity is suspected but has not been evidenced. Infidelity can be devastating for both members of a couple and feel like a betrayal of trust and security. Feelings of guilt, loneliness, anger and being stuck in a cycle may appear, preventing couples from moving forward, together or separately.
- Communication – Everyone possesses a unique style of communication and within a relationship, these differences are often highlighted during arguments or periods of change. Good communication is characterised by honesty, clarity, listening and problem-solving. Some couples may start off with good communication levels and notice a decrease over time, whereas others may have always struggled to communicate effectively. The appearance of certain communication errors can enhance tension within relationships and include criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. The good news is that there are many strategies that are easy to implement and readily available to couples who wish to improve their communication and understanding of one another.
- Finance – Many couples argue over debt, poor finances or income. Differences in attitude towards money and spending habits can cause conflict within a relationship. When individuals feel under pressure to financially provide or have been dishonest about their financial situation, it may cause significant anxiety and stress. This can be worked on by enhancing communication and building trust.
- Infertility – Couples experiencing difficulties conceiving or going through the processes of IVF, surrogacy, adoption or any other alternative support for infertility may experience a range of intense emotions and possibly struggle communicating these with one another. It is not always a negative experience, and some find that the process enhances appreciation and love within the relationship. However, some couples may struggle with feelings of self-blame, shame, frustration, fear and anger, which if experienced can be improved through challenging negative self-talk and fostering positive and affirmative behaviours.
- Trauma – A relationship often weathers many storms, as the uncertainties of life events unfold. Traumatic experiences within a relationship may include accident or injury to one or both members of the couple, bereavement of a child or significant other as well as abuse. Trauma may impact both individuals within a relationship differently, hence it is useful to address any changes that occur between each other, for example, any significant increase or decrease in certain behaviours such as arguing, sex or time spent together. Most couples are able to process traumas through open communication and emotional expression, which helps to maintain long term support and stability.
- Separation and divorce – Couples that are considering separation or divorce may feel that the relationship is at breaking point and cannot see a way forward. An unhealthy ending may strongly impact upon how you feel as individuals, especially if the decision to end the relationship is not mutual. If there are children involved, the process of separation may feel particularly daunting for couples but there are now many options and resources available to help couples or families transition into new dynamics.
- Cross-cultural understanding– Individuals entering a relationship from different backgrounds typically follow a natural process of learning about and respecting one another’s cultural values and beliefs. However, if cultural differences are disrespected, misunderstood, or ignored, conflict may arise and disrupt couple growth and progression. Couples may want to learn how to compromise and integrate each of their backgrounds and subsequently establish a stronger bond built upon mutual acceptance.
Tips for couples
If you are considering couple counselling to improve any relationship, it is useful to firstly consider positive aspects of the dynamics between you both which can be restored, or built upon. One technique encourages active reflection upon the foundations of the relationship by asking yourselves some of the following questions:
- How did the relationship begin and what are its strengths?
- What are some of our most positive memories?
- What do I appreciate about the other person?
- How does this relationship make us both feel?
- When was the last time we listened to each other and communicated effectively?
- Have we experienced an issue previously and if so, how did we resolve it?
Reflections can be shared within the relationship, to foster a culture of appreciation and a step towards problem-solving. Alternatively, if an issue within the relationship feels one-sided, you may want to consider working on communication by expressing your feelings or needs and providing the other person with an opportunity to equally share their experiences within the relationship.
How counselling can help couples?
Whether you choose to attend as a couple or individually, therapy for issues within relationships will maintain a neutral and unbiased approach towards any difficulties that you are facing. Individual support may consist of developing communication skills, exploring the emotions underlying a relationship issue and learning strategies for moving forward that can be worked on alone, without the involvement of the other person.
Alternatively, couple counselling adopts a directive approach to relationship issues and follows a structured process whereby those attending will get the opportunity to:
- Identify healthy and unhealthy patterns of behaviour
- Develop new styles of effective communication
- Learn techniques to enhance positivity and love
- Overcome ruptures and build resilience
- Enhance problem-solving skills
- Address concerns in a safe and non-judgemental space
There are often some misconceptions about couple counselling being critical, or biased towards one member within the relationship, which may prevent people from seeking support. However, from the very first session couples are encouraged to adopt a no-blame policy and collaborate throughout the course of therapy. Depending upon the nature of the issues, couples may be asked to engage in activities outside of session and will be provided with resources to enhance progress towards goals.
Appointments and enquiries
If you would like to arrange an appointment or require further information regarding our services please telephone our Wolverhampton practice on: 01902 827808. Alternatively fill out our online contact form and we will contact you within 24 hours.