When a relationship flounders, it is useful to look back at its development. At first, each person is listening carefully to the other’s preferences. The tendency is to accommodate any differences, skimming over them concentrating on the shared enjoyment and similarities. Having learned how best to connect and be together, mostly any disparities are put aside.

When coping with a new situation, like having children, redundancy or moving house, any vulnerabilities in the relationship become activated. Mostly each person knows how to operate together when things go smoothly. They have few tools for dealing with disagreement, miscommunication or feeling stuck.

By the time a couple is thinking that counselling might help, it is likely they are not able to hear or listen to each other, neither do they want to. Each feels misunderstood and probably hurt and angry. 

The counsellor will make clear that (s)he is there to look at the relationship, not to take sides or shame and blame. The work is: to map the current situation of the relationship in all aspects, and to help them both understand how they have reached this point; to support them to find out what changes would have to be made to motivate them to stay together, or if that is not possible, to consider separation. Then there is an opportunity to work on a way forward, together or apart. 

The counsellor facilitates communication. Usually couples trying to resolve problems go round and round in well-trodden circles, attacking and/or defending or sometimes avoiding all but the most cursory communication. In the therapy room, each has an opportunity to be heard and to hear. Useful procedures for clearer communication can be learned and used outside counselling sessions.

Relationship counselling is fruitful before things go awry. Increased awareness of ways in which couples communicate/miscommunicate helps them to prevent acute hiccups in the relationship developing into chronic difficulties.

Co-founder, Cotswold Talking Therapies