Considering relationship counselling is most certainly a daunting position to be in. It brings with it
the realisation that your relationship problems are real and that you cannot go on in this way, something that few couples ever wish to acknowledge. The act of admitting to your problems is a hugely positive step and vitally important to saving your relationship, however, it is also an extremely difficult step to take.

There may be many things preventing you from attending relationship counselling such as fear of the unknown, stigma and stereotypes which frequently accompany counselling, the fear of having to confront your problems and actually have to work on them, fear of divulging these problems to a therapist, fear that your partner will not co-operate, fear that your problems will seem trivial to the therapist, fear that your relationship is too far gone for anything to be able to revive it, fear that therapy will only worsen the problems, fear of judgement, the list is all but endless.

If you look at the above, you will notice that all of the apprehensions mentioned have one thing in common, fear. This is probably the greatest obstacle that will stand in your way. Overcoming this fear is far from simple and will require both you and your partner to agree that your relationship is not what is should be as well as the decision from both of you to seek help, with the knowledge that counselling is not an easy path but rather one which requires hard work and commitment. The ability to agree on this is vitally important and shows that there is still something worth saving in your relationship, increasing your chances of succeeding in counselling. Although this may be hard, it is definitely something that you need to do if your relationship is under strain.

In addition to this very important and daunting step, you and your partner will no doubt have many questions and concerns about the process of seeking help, what happens during a counselling session, if your relationship is indeed a candidate for counselling, etc. Hopefully the following will help to clarify a few of these concerns.

What is relationship counselling?

This is a very common question which often causes a great deal of unnecessary anxiety. Essentially, relationship counselling is the counselling of both parties of a relationship, at the same time, with the aim of uncovering and working through problems in order to enhance and reconcile the relationship.

Some things that the therapist will be interested in are:

 The history of your relationship as well as individual histories
 Current struggles in your individual personal lives as well as your relationship
 Relationship goals
 Relationship strengths and weaknesses
 Triggers which lead to problems in your relationship

In relationship counselling the therapist is more involved that in individual counselling and will provide each member of the relationship with equal time and attention. You have no need to fear that the counsellor will side with either you or your partner as this will not happen. The counsellor is there to help you as a couple, not to pick sides! You can also expect homework to complete in your own time as a couple which will be reviewed and discussed at follow up sessions. It is worth noting that relationship counselling usually requires fewer sessions than individual therapy does. You can rest assured that therapy is certainly not as daunting as you most probably are imagining it to be.

How to tell if your relationship could benefit from couples counselling?

There are numerous tell-tale signs that a relationship is in trouble. Some of these include:

 Frequent arguments often resulting from small problems
 A lack of or breakdown in communication
 You feel stuck in a ‘rut’ in your relationship
 Reduced physical intimacy
 Reduced emotional intimacy
 Trust has been broken
 Infidelity and unfaithfulness
 Preoccupation with personal lives, leading to neglect of the relationship
 Parenting style conflicts
 In-law troubles
 Keeping secrets from one-another

These are only a few of the many problems which relationship therapists are capable of helping with. There is no need to suffer through a relationship that is not benefiting yourself or your partner when there is help available. Another important thing to remember is that no problem is trivial. If it is causing stress to your relationship then it is important and needs to be dealt with. Never feel that your problems are too small to require professional assistance as these small problems will no doubt snowball into larger and larger problems. Rather seek help early to avoid unnecessary stress and to be able to regain your loving relationship as soon as possible.

How to enhance the effectiveness of relationship counselling:

In general, couples counselling can be extremely beneficial, however, there are some times when counselling fails. Why is this you may ask, well, it tends to relate to the couple being counselled.

Below are some very important things which are required for counselling to be successful:

 Seek help early. The sooner you seek a counsellors help, the greater chance there is that
your counselling will be successful.
 Both partners must be motivated and committed to improve the relationship.
 Both partners need to be motivated by love for their partner and desire the return of their
relationship to its former glory.
 The couple must be prepared to explore difficult areas of their relationship.
 Both partners must be willing to accept that they both contributed to the decline of the
relationship. Blaming one another won’t help in the long run. You need to understand that a
relationship is the product of both partners contributions and be willing to acknowledge and
work on your own faults.
 Both partners need to be open to therapy and willing to take the advice offered by the
therapist.
 Both partners must be willing to make changes in their lives for the good of their
relationship. Expecting your relationship to improve without actually changing anything is
most certainly an unrealistic expectation.
 Finally, both partners need to understand that the therapist is not a miracle worker. It is
essentially up to the couple to heal themselves. The therapist is a facilitator of change who is
there to guide you in your journey to recovering your relationship.

Although all of the above are important to the success of couples counselling, it is very important to
remember that there are certain times when counselling may no longer be an option. Some of these
times include:

 When one partner is determined to divorce the other partner
 When one partner is not invested in the counselling process
 When the couple are closed to any suggestions from the counsellor and are not willing to
make adjustments in their relationship
 When the relationship is physically abusive, including abuse towards either spouse or
children.

Should you find yourself in a position highlighted above, relationship counselling may not be suitable
for you. It is very important to remember that counselling requires a great deal of work and commitment from both partners. Should this be missing, chances are that counselling will not be successful. It is important for both partners in a relationship to talk and discuss, in detail, the option of counselling with the hope that the conversation will result in both partners being willing and committed to partake in counselling.

Should your relationship be in one of the situations above, you will need to seek specialized
assistance immediately. These are highly problematic situations which require immediate attention.
Although a relationship counsellor may be able to assist with these problems, it is important to seek
further specialized interventions. A relationship counsellor will however be able to refer you to the
specialized treatment which you require. It is important to remember that there is always hope for
any relationship, provided that the correct help is sought as soon as possible.

In a nutshell:

Relationship counselling can, in all seriousness, be the saviour of your relationship, provided that
you and your partner are willing to make the commitments and changes needed for successful
therapy. Make no mistake, counselling is no easy task, however, with enough determination, it can
have the most wonderful and life changing results.

You may feel scared and confused by the thought of seeking help for your relationship, however, if
you are in a relationship which is toxic and no longer beneficial to both you and your partner, then it
is definitely time to seek the help that you need. Rest assured that no relationship counsellor will judge you or tell you that your problems are trivial. Your counsellor will always have the best interests of your relationships at heart and will do everything that they can to ensure that your counselling sessions are beneficial. Your counsellor will do their work, provided that you and your partner do too.

Now is the time to take a deep breath, sit down with your partner and discuss the road ahead,
knowing that, should you both want it, there is a solution to your relationship woes. Take that first,
very difficult and brave step to contact a relationship counsellor, you have nothing to lose and
everything to gain.

References:
Herbert, W.L., & Jarvis, F.V. (1970) Marriage Counselling in the Community. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Leavitt, J.P. (2010). Common Dilemmas in Couple Therapy. New York: Routledge.
Lundblad, A., & Hansson, K. (2006). Couples therapy: effectiveness of treatment and long-term
follow-up. Journal of Family Therapy, 28, 136–152.
Stevens, B., & Arnstein, M. (2011). Happy Ever After?: A Practical Guide to Relationship Counselling
for Clinical Psychologists. Australia: Australian Academic Press.
Wachtel, E.F. (2016). The Heart of Couple Therapy: Knowing What to Do and How to Do It. New York:
The Guilford Press.