Whether or not to have therapy is an important question…
It’s an investment of time, energy and money. You want to know that it’s worth it. This article addresses some of the situations you might be in if you’re not sure about couples therapy.
Only one of us wants couples counselling
“My partner says we have problems and need couples therapy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong… Don’t all couples go through difficult times? I think we’re OK”.
It’s common in couples for one partner to be thinking about, or ready for counselling and the other doesn’t, at least at this point, see the need. There are many reasons for this difference. One partner might be more tuned into relationship stress, one partner may have greater tolerance for conflict… or silence. Some people respond to discomfort and uncertainty by being proactive. Others respond by taking a breath, sitting back and trusting that the problem will sort itself out. There’s no response that’s inherently ‘right’. Mostly in relationships both people are doing their best, albeit that the two approaches might be quite different.
The reality is that in a partnership if one person thinks there’s a problem, then it’s something worth addressing. Taking your partner’s concerns seriously in itself is a valuable demonstration of your commitment to the relationship as well as being an opportunity to address any concerns.
There was a hurtful incident many years ago. Can couples counselling really help now?
“My partner is still hurt about something that happened years ago. I’ve said sorry. I don’t understand why we can’t just move on”.
It’s not uncommon for emotional injuries that occurred previously, sometimes even years prior, to have never really healed. It can seem that there’s a scab that easily gets knocked off so that the hurt resurfaces… again. Maybe you wish you could just get back to the way things were before the hurt occurred but you doubt that you ever can.
The good news is that with support, repairs can be made that can help to bring healing so that the impact of the past is lightened. This is not about pointing fingers or laying blame it’s about helping to find a bridge to reconnection through deeper understanding. From this point it’s possible to identify the vulnerabilities in the relationship that contributed to the situation and work at preventing anything similar happening again. Ultimately, we want to create a relationship that feels relationally and emotionally safe; one you’re both happy to be in. It’s possible to use opportunities like this to grow so that your relationship becomes even stronger than it was prior to the hurtful incident.
Couples therapy can be pricey. Is there a less expensive option?
“We have significant expenses at the moment. I’d prefer to revisit the idea of therapy down the track.”
Therapy can be a significant financial outlay. For couples therapy there is no Medicare rebate. On the other hand, many Health Insurance companies contribute to the cost of couple therapy. If you have Health Insurance with extras cover this is something worth checking with them. I’m also happy to discuss this possibility with you.
Aside from rebates there are a limited number of counselling services that offer sliding scale fees for counselling services. These include Relationships Australia and Anglicare. Please contact them directly for current fees and waiting times.
Most significantly, you can reduce the cost of counselling by committing to the process, attending appointments in the recommended timeframe, utilising resources and practising the strategies you learn in sessions when you are at home. Starting the process sooner rather than later, is also likely to save you money in the long run. Delaying can mean that hurts fester and unhealthy patterns become more entrenched and harder to shift. Sadly, there are times when relationships do break down. Even under the most amicable circumstances separation and divorce are a significant financial as well as emotional cost.
Can couples counselling really make a difference?
“I’m afraid that if we have counselling I’ll be blamed for all our problems. I’m worried it will make things worse not better”.
Being in a difficult place as a couple is really hard. At some point you were close and had hopes for a great future together. It can be scary to think of losing that. You might have had counselling as a couple previously and it wasn’t very helpful, or you might know of people who had couples counselling and they ended up separating anyway. There are no guarantees in couples therapy but there are things you can do that maximise your chance of coming away with a relationship you’re happy to be in. Firstly, make sure that the therapist you choose has solid training and experience as a couples counsellor. Many therapists offer counselling to couples but have very little training or experience. Secondly, see working on your relationship as an investment. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Relationships don’t improve by attending session. They improve by putting into practice what you’re learning in sessions. Gottman therapy offers clear strategies and structures to maximise the chance of you putting into practise helpful strategies at home.
When is the best time for us to get help?
“We’ve got a lot on our plates at the moment and think it might be better to wait until things have settled down before starting couple therapy”.
The reality of life for most people is that it’s busy! It’s rare for us to get to that time when we have the space for those things that are important but that don’t feel pressingly urgent. One of the benefits of strengthening your relationship when life is demanding is that you’re able to go through the tough stuff feeling much more supported; like you’re a team instead of combatants.
When you have kids life lifts to a whole new level. With job stress, family pressures and all of life’s other responsibilities it can be hard to imagine fitting counselling in. It can be tempting to put off therapy waiting for a better time. Waiting for a better time can mean waiting for a long time and for some couples, the sad reality is that they wait until things have reached crisis point. PLEASE don’t wait until it’s too late!! The work will be harder, take longer and will cost more emotionally and financially. If you think you might benefit from therapy, approach it earlier rather than later. You will reap the benefits sooner and so will those around you. For parents this is particularly true. The greatest gift we can give our children is a loving, healthy relationship between us their parents. Not only do they reap the benefits of being in a loving household, they also get to see good relationships modelled which is the best way for them to have healthy relationships themselves.
Prevention is always better than cure. Getting help sooner rather than later can make a significant difference. In addition to counselling, I also run the Gottman Bringing Baby Home program for expectant parents and those with children up to 3 years of age https://welloflife.com.au/services/
“Things were bad a while ago but they’ve settled down again now. I think we’re right for the time being”.
Going through a rough patch and coming out the other side feeling stronger as a couple is wonderful. It provides an important opportunity to reflect on circumstances that contributed to the tough time, and to consider what you’ve learnt individually and as a couple.
It’s important that you’re not just feeling better because the issue has been swept aside rather than resolved. Both partners need to feel that their experience and perspective are understood. People who naturally lean towards a positive outlook in life are a great asset in all sorts of spheres, but it’s important in relationship that we are real with ourselves and each other. This means acknowledging and dealing gently with unresolved hurts that might be associated with feeling unheard, unloved or misunderstood. The answer to issues of conflict is understanding rather than superficial peace.
When not to have couple therapy
“I’ll admit that we have problems, but it’s because my partner has significant issues. We need therapy so that my partner can get the help they need. I know I’m not perfect but things would be much better if only my partner could be set straight”.
Couples counselling is unlikely to be effective if the work of strengthening the relationship is seen as the responsibility of the other person. Couples therapy involves changing the patterns that have developed between the two of you. These patterns are most easily shifted when both partners are willing to see their personal contributions and able to take steps to change.
Owning our contributions and being willing to change are important elements of successful couples therapy. Sometimes it’s useful to consider how we might benefit personally through couples therapy. Many of the things that are useful in relating with our partners are also useful in other areas: with our kids, family or in our workplace. None of us is perfect! We all have room to grow, but if that’s not where you’re at right now you might not be ready for couple therapy. And that’s ok. If this is your situation, I’m happy to work with an individual partner in supporting their relationship. Studies show that the best way to deal with relationship issues is in couples counselling, but individual work with a therapist who is experienced with couples can also be valuable.
One of isn’t sure they want to be in the relationship
“Things aren’t good. I’m not even sure I want to be in the relationship let alone work on it”.
If you’re not sure you even want to be in the relationship, Discernment Counselling could be a good option. Discernment Counselling is a limited process of no more than 5 sessions. The purpose of these sessions is not to try to improve your relationship but to decide whether you think it could be improved with appropriate support and whether that’s what you want. Deciding the future of your relationship is a big decision. The goal of Discernment Counselling is to gain clarity about what has happened in this relationship to get it to this point, and to gain confidence about the best way forward.
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO PHONE OR EMAIL IF YOU’D LIKE TO DISCUSS YOUR SITUATION
p. 0432 99 88 31