Counselling work often begins with a narrative. Whether an individual or a couple is sitting in the therapy room, there will be a story to be told. Each storyline will be different, but there can be familiar elements. Perhaps part of the following may reflect narratives that you have heard or even been a party to.
A man orders a cocktail. The woman standing next to him at the bar laughs at the multi-coloured concoction which arrives. He describes the content. It is very different to the simple glass of wine she is holding. They continue to talk and quickly realise that they have very dissimilar personalities. They have markedly different life experiences and expectations. That includes food, music, friends, and holidays… as well as drinks. But that difference is interesting – it becomes intriguing and then exciting.
They talk into the night. They continue to meet and soon become a couple. Throughout the opening years of the relationship, each continues to challenge the other with very new experiences. The relationship is secure and seems to deepen. Each seems to fit alongside the other. Life is full of interest and the unexpected.
Fast forward seven years. She is aware of becoming tired, irritated, and is not sure why. She is just fed up with the seemingly never-ending search for the new experience across areas of their life together. It is draining, exhausting. She starts to yearn for continuity, for something familiar with a sense of knowing. The arguments gradually grow as the silences lengthen between them. The couple start to drift, and eventually the relationship ends.
At the same time, in another bar, a woman orders an unusual gin and mixer combination. The guy standing next to her voices his surprise. This is identical to the drink which he is holding. They are amused at the coincidence. They continue to talk and quickly realise they have very similar personalities. They have so much in common, including food, music, friends, and holidays… as well as drinks. They are intrigued, and then excited.
They talk into the night. That familiarity is comfortable, encouraging and warm. They continue to meet and become a couple. The relationship is secure and seems to deepen. Each seems to fit well alongside the other. Life together is full of warm, mutually-shared, satisfying experiences.
Fast forward seven years. He is aware of becoming tired, irritated, and is not sure why. He is just fed up with what he feels is the repetitive, predictable pattern of life. It is draining. He wants to find something new, a sense of something different. The arguments gradually grow and the silences lengthen between them. The couple start to drift and eventually the relationship ends.
A cynic could see these rather sad vignettes as confirmation that all relationships, even those with a seemingly solid foundation, are eventually doomed, but perhaps that view is too pessimistic. Elements of these two narratives may certainly resonate with certain situations which some couples find themselves in. Yet, there were obvious opportunities for changes in the relationships which, if followed, could have helped these two fictitious couples to stay together.
There was a very evident need for remedial work before that relationship drift became too pronounced. Some re-balancing of life, with an acknowledgement of changing expectations of each other, was required. Perhaps that should have been foreseen, but sometimes it can be very difficult to fully understand a situation that we are so close to.
To identify a need for change, and to then act accordingly, requires honest talking and open communication. There can be the additional fraught challenge of finding the right words to use when talking about something so personal. It can seem risky to question something which is fundamental; to invite change can invite a threat into the relationship.
Yet, if there is no change, this type of drama may play out to an inevitable conclusion. In order that positive change can occur safely, communication needs to be open but also constructive. In order to bring about that type of improved communication within relationships, it can sometimes be helpful to have external assistance.
That third party may be a mutually trusted friend or relative. Occasionally, however, that type of support does not work. There may be a reluctance by one party to open up in front of someone who perhaps plays an ongoing role in the couples’ life. There can be friction. If certain issues emerge that intermediary may inadvertently become a saboteur rather than a facilitator. It is in those situations that couple counselling or relationship counselling may prove helpful.
Within relationships there are three concerns which can often have an adverse impact on how couples are together. The three issues are communication, sex, and money. The ordering of that sequence is deliberate. If communication between the two works well, that will help greatly with any other key concerns such as sex and money. In relationship counselling, the therapist can help the couple to unpick those communication locks and encourage the relationship to regrow.
For couple counselling to work well, it is clearly important that couples choose the right relationship therapist. In addition to the time involved in subsequent meetings, there will be a demanding emotional investment, as well as fees. At the outset, the very act of talking through whether or not to go for couple counselling can be helpful, or it may exacerbate strains in the relationship. This will not be a process which either party ever expected or wanted to be engaged with. It is also not unusual for one within the couple to perhaps be a little more wary of this form of counselling than the other partner. These concerns reinforce the need for a careful, considered choice of counsellor.
Nevertheless, for couples who have invested so much in each other and have a rich shared history, it can be worth taking time to have those initial discussions with a relationship therapist. A gradual drift in a relationship does not have to become an irrevocable separation. Whilst a couple are still together and the relationship persists, there is still time to talk, to reset, and start anew.