When To Seek Counselling For Your Relationship


by Christine Brett Vickers
Couple and Individual Psychotherapist


couple picture







Couple – Relationship Counselling aims to assist people with their relationships whether they are entering into, are within, or leaving a relationship. Couples may be seen together or as individuals.


A family can take all shapes and forms from the couple with a few kids, single mothers or fathers, same sex couples or through the extended family. Children need the safety and consistency of their relationships with their parents to grow and flourish; adults also need to feel loved and respected in their most significant relationships to freely manage the complexities and difficulties as well experience the joys that life offers. Sometimes things don’t work out and the decision may be to end the relationship. Or it may be that by identifying problems and working on them together as a couple, or indeed, as a family, that an impasse can be broken down and movement to a new phase in the relationship will emerge.


Couples may experience different points of crisis in their relationship over its life’.
These are:


This is a period in which couples discover their differences, and sometimes disappointments that their expectations are not being met. Most couples will work through the discovery that they have different histories and indeed different understandings of a relationship which they learned from their parents. Reaching a space where they can blend theses histories to form their own unique relationship is a great achievement. Some however, may need to work with a therapist for a period to navigate this phase, particularly if the ‘blueprints’ from childhood relationships with parents or others is felt to be problematic.


A baby may be very wanted by both the couple – it may not be the first child. But the birth of a child is a time when the dynamics change as a couple moves from being exclusively available for one another to becoming a family with one or more children. Some people have described the birth of a child as ‘like a hand grenade’ being thrown into the relationship. It is a way of describing the psychological re-organisation that has to occur in each member of the couple, and in the relationship itself, as everyone adjusts to the new situation. It is worth mentioning that many couples seeking counselling many years later date their difficulties from the birth of the children.


One of the couple may leave a job for a new one, get a promotion, or return to study, or retire. Again this means a renegotiation of roles and expectations – conscious AND unconscious as a couple, and their children navigate their way through this.


So everyone did infancy and childhood very well and then the kids reached adolescence. This is a crisis time for some, with the kids growing up and working out who they are, often in a very different way to the dreams and wishes of their parents. Adolescence, like infancy and childhood can tap into old, unresolved issues from that phase of life, in their parents with resulting conflict or changes in behaviour. Again, with humour and communication, these can be navigated but it also may be that a couple may need to spend some time with a counsellor or therapist to sort things out.


Perhaps you have worked through the empty nest stage, and enjoyed the collaboration and rediscovery of your ‘couplehood’. Perhaps you have had a long experience of working out how to balance your own life with the couple relationship and enjoyed a productive collaboration with your partner as the children have grown up, moved away and formed their own families. But then one of you falls ill, or has to give up independence one way or another to depend upon a healthier partner. Again the unconscious balance of marriage needs to be renegotiated as the old ways fail and new patterns do not take their place. It is a phase with particular anxieties – about illness, the death of a partner, and what it will mean to be alone. It is also a period where latent problems may emerge: for farming families or business families, succession planning may become fraught as a result.


I have named several crisis points that have brought couples to therapy over the years. There are others situations that may emerge, such as the death of of a child or signficant person in the family’s life; the emergence of childhood trauma in the relationship, post traumatic stress or mental illness in one’s family of origin or within the relationship.

If you are noticing these things happening in your relationship it may be useful to pause and think about whether you can sort the situation together or seek further assistance:

Increased arguing
Unresolved arguing about the same thing – repeating patterns


Accessing internet pornography to escape

Growing distance from each other

Moving into parallel lives

Frustration in one of the partner

Abusive behaviour – verbal or physical

Partner Violence

Feeling unhappy in the relationships

Marginalisation of the partner

Conflict over children

Stepfamily issues

Spending long periods away from the relationships

Communication breaks down.

Sexual relationship has ceased
It is up to you whether you come to counselling as a couple or as individuals for the first sessions. Time will be taken to understand what the problem is that brought you to the point of seeking help and ways you have tried to work things out. Exploring the history of the relationship is part of the process and, indeed, understanding how you met and got together is a way, not only of remembering a happier period, but understanding the expectations, and hopes each of you had for the relationship. People often find they have more in common than they realised when they begin this exploration.

Some people ask for strategies to assist with communication problems. These can be useful particularly when the couple works out together what will suit them as a couple. You are the expert on your relationship.. the role of the couple relationship therapist is, amongst other things, to help you discover your resources together.

It is important to note that the aim of couple therapy is not necessarily to hold the relationship together but to assist in working out what is happening in the relationship and what to do about it. One outcome may be separation and it may be that the work of the therapy is to understand together why this is to be so.

All in all couple relationship counselling can be an enriching period of growth and exploration as well as learning for both.

If you would like to read some more I recommend that you explore the self help books online or in the bookshop… often what jumps out at you is what you need. But here are some other titles that may be useful.

Christopher Clulow, Marriage Inside Out: Understanding the Problems of Intimacy ( 1995)

Robin Skynner and John Cleese; Families and How to Survive Them, Cedar books, 1993; ( Hard copy and download) 

John Gotttmann and Julie Gottman, And Baby Makes Three, The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives,( 2008),

Frank Pittman, Beyond Betrayal: Life After Infidelity (1993) reviewed in Psychology Today: 28 December 2012; 
Copyright : Christine Brett Vickers

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