Some thoughts of a counselling therapist on working with couples…

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Those who know me are aware that in addition to my formal training, including my diploma courses, I credit my clients for my insights.

Here are some insights I gained from my 20 years in the profession:

Counselling therapists need to be cautious when working with a couple for many reasons and not jump to conclusions too soon. The observably more emotional and/or verbally aggressive partner might not be the person you need to focus on. Years of desperation and frustration when trying to develop a healthy intimate relationship might do that to a person. The “pursuer” often feels correctly, that when they stop “running after” a spouse, nothing will ever happen. On the other hand, when the person doing most of the work remains doing this, the other more passive spouse will not step up. In couple therapy they can be asked to do exactly that: Step it up, show initiative, and change the dynamics.

Most of us counselling therapists are aware of abusive behaviours. Controlling a girlfriend/boyfriend, spouse/partner falls into this category as those partners are not allowed to be “their own tree”. On the other hand, keep in mind that this “controlling behaviour” might have a history. Some people have extremely loose boundaries and may be hurting their partner in public. So, rather than solely pointing out that trying to control a partner’s behaviour is not OK, it might be effective to also ask a couple to come up with some agreements on boundaries. Every couple is different regarding where they place boundaries when interacting with others.

It are the so called “little things”. In previous posts I discussed the Reasonable Expectations in a Committed Intimate Relationship for a good couple relationship. Many times clients bring up examples that may on the surface be perceived as minor issues. For instance, if one has made it clear to want to care for the environment by re-using e.g. plastic water bottles, rather than throwing them out, and the other one, just discards the bottles without asking. It is not not “just” about the bottles, it is about listening to your partner and respecting them and their values.

Counselling therapists must be cautious when working with a client with relationship issues individually. Unless there are obvious reasons to not include the partner, working on relationship issues such as communication and intimacy will not be effective. When starting sessions with a couple, discuss the boundaries, which means that couples respect each other during the session and do not use what has been said in the session as ammunition against each other.

Any comments welcome…

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