Many couples struggle to find a way to communicate effectively. Without a solid platform from which to discuss tricky subjects safely and productively we may flounder around feeling unhappy, angry and stuck. There might be rows, silences and slammed doors but no matter how much energy is expended nothing changes; the difficulties within the relationship stay the same. How can counselling and psychotherapy help?
Feeling The Pressure
Communication difficulties often arise – or are highlighted – when a relationship is put under pressure. This might be due to, for example:
- the arrival of a child
- illness or disability
- too much or too little work, redundancy, retirement or –
- a combination of the above.
All families are different. Whatever the circumstances of our birth, we will have grown up with implicit messages as to how the world functions. Societal norms will change around us and we might well take on board some of these, but the influences from our childhood are likely to remain in some capacity.
Couples coping with the arrival of a child often find themselves falling back on traditional lines of who does what, especially if one parent is mostly doing the caring and the other is mostly working outside the home. For some, this arrangement might be ok, and for others it might not. If one person in such a couple has grown up in a family where there has been a traditional division of labour and the other has not, a clash of expectations is highly likely. Without a safe and solid platform for negotiating how everybody’s needs can be met (good enough, rather than perfectly), trouble is on the cards.
What’s Going On Here?
When we are experiencing communication problems with our partner, we can often become stuck in our own hurt feelings and point of view; our needs are going unmet and ‘they’ are stubbornly refusing to put themselves in our shoes. Stepping back from our anger and frustration can allow us to look more deeply at what is going on.
If we are able to better understand where our partner is coming from, negotiating a compromise becomes much more achievable. Observing and exploring our relationship in this way can expose, for example:
- conflicting needs
- unrealistic expectations
- old sensitivities
- attachment difficulties and –
- pressures from outside the relationship
With the help of a solid platform from which to discuss these differences, we may be able to reach a range of workable compromises or, as is sometimes the case, come to the realisation that the relationship is not working and that we need to go our separate ways.
How Can Counselling Or Psychotherapy Help?
Counselling can provide a safe and boundaried space in which to uncover communication blocks and build a functional, personalised platform for negotitaion. Such a platform will involve agreeing and experimenting with a set of rules which keeps both parties feeling emotionally safe enough to talk about tricky stuff. For example, we might agree to stick to one issue at a time, take a break and revisit a subject later if things become heated, avoid inflammatory and accusing language (‘you always do this…’, ‘you never do that…’ etc), respect the other’s differences and so on.
In my experience, it is not always necessary to come to counselling as a couple. Indeed, it is often preferable to have some individual therapy – at least to begin with – in order to uncover your own needs, sensitivities and expectations. See my post ‘Joint Therapy or Individual Therapy?’ for more on this subject.
* * * No couples’ counselling spaces for the foreseeable future * * * October 2019
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to psychotherapy and counselling interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation. Emailing in the first instance seems to work best.
Copyright Caroline Clarke, Counselling and Psychotherapy in Brighton and Hove, Sussex.
Image courtesy of Rob D at FreeDigitalPhotos.net