What is relationship counseling?
Relationship counseling is aimed at helping people learn how to manage difference and work better together. It’s based on the idea that what happens between people is as important as what happens to them individually. Your relationship is co-created with your partner, each of you bringing all your assets and deficits — your "baggage," if you will.
We humans are hard-wired to be in relationship, but we’re not born knowing how to fulfill that need. Generally, we learn from our parents and siblings — by rote — what it means to be part of a family.
Since most of our parents learned from their parents, who learned from their parents, who learned from their parents… well, you probably get the idea. Most of us believe we know how relationship works, and what parts we should play.
But not all families are the same. My family and yours might have very different ideas about what a wife, a husband, a mother, or a father is supposed to do. When we fall in love with a stranger, we enter unknown territory.
Relationship counseling helps you explore that territory.
Signs you may need Relationship counseling
Are you fighting the "same old fight"? That suggests you’re stuck in your efforts to work through your differences.
Are you living parallel lives, rather than eye-to-eye (or I-to-I)? You might be hesitant to get to know each other on a deeper level.
Are you collecting resentments? Maybe you don’t have good ways of airing disagreements.
Do you feel overwhelmed by your in-laws? Perhaps you don’t know how to establish workable boundaries.
Your relationship doesn’t have to be "in trouble" for you to make good use of relationship counseling.
Who can benefit from counseling?
The short answer to that is, anyone who is in a serious relationship. But we have a way of muddling along, so long as things aren’t too bad.
Too many people come in when they’re almost ready to give up. They’ve reached an important choice point, whether to separate or to deepen the relationship. It helps to have a trained ear listening to your struggle.
You don’t have to be desperate, though, to benefit. Couples actually come in to make a reasonably good relationships better.
Couples counseling deals with problems in all stages of relationship: dating, premarital, marriage, separation, and divorce.
Problems with dating can sometimes be an individual treatment: how do I find the right person? why can’t I keep a relationship going? how do I know if this IS the right person?
Premarital counseling is about getting to know the partner you are planning to "go into business" with: Do we agree on the important things? Have we explored our "deal-busters"? Can we at least tolerate each others’ families?
Marital counseling is often about untangling assumptions, exploring the changing dynamics caused by work life, or children… learning to have dialogue together, rather than taking "at" one another.
Separation : sometimes a relationship runs its course. Can we de-tangle our lives respectfully, and leave one another with a sense of completion?
Divorce : Can we end this union with an understanding that, while it may not have lasted so long as we’d hoped, while in it we learned about ourselves and one another, and gave it our best?
You don’t have to be an "official" couple, either . Parent and child, business partners, and siblings all experience unpleasant dynamics in their everyday lives. The only requirement for couples counseling is two people who want to have a better relationship.
What are the goals of relationship counseling?
There is one primary goal, with multiple sub-headings. Whether you’re fighting or not speaking, whether you’re overwhelmed or lonely, the goal is to find that sweet spot, where you can look one another in the eye and recognize your partner. To reframe what has been messed up and find ways to treat each other with respect and love.
This is true whether you stay together or separate.
What happens during counseling sessions?
I’ll tell you what doesn’t happen. I won’t let you damage one another. I also am not the judge to determine which of you is "right," which of course makes the other "wrong."
What does happen is: You’ll talk things over as I witness how you interact. You’ll tell me where it hurts.
I’ll observe you together, and point out things you’re not aware of. This is especially true when your usual way to communicate is to use body language.
I’ll protect the relationship while you say things that you have been afraid to say to each other.
What we do together is to deconstruct your problems, looking at how you each participate in keeping them going.
We work on skills to communicate your wants and needs in ways that get you understood.
We develop skills to practice at home. We do this together, because not all people benefit from the same practices.
How will I help you and your partner through this process?
I am the advocate for your relationship, so that you are free to take risks. Many relationships go stale because partners feel they must be too careful around each other.
I have many years experience observing what happens between people, and can put a finger on the hot spots.
I will referee, when necessary.
I create a safe space for you to be yourselves, together.