Even if one or both clients attending couples therapy have had individual sessions before there can still be a lot of uncertainty in terms of what to expect from joint therapy sessions. Most couples come to therapy with a communication gap of some sort and, with the right guidance, it is in the therapeutic arena that a new way forward can be found. But to move to that place it’s essential that the sessions guide the couple to addressing the roots of what has caused the rift in the first place.
Clarity on the purpose of working together is a great place to start. Be clear about the fact that you’re not there to be the referee of an argument. The relationship is the client. Looking in between the two people and visualising the relationship between them can be helpful. Now everything that is addressed in the therapy is to help nurture, water, nourish and feed that relationship.
When it comes to making progress in therapy there are many factors at play. Two of them might be time and comfort. Time, as in it will take time for them to work through issues, repair and rebuild. But to balance the repair a reminder of what brought the couple together in the first place can be important and that too takes some carving out of time to be together to just be together. Reminding and re-inforcing that being together is a choice and it is a choice that was first ignited by an attraction to each other.
The second factor might be comfort (or indeed discomfort), in that it can be an uncomfortable experience to hear what the other person has to say and go through the process of awareness of how someone has experienced your behaviour(s) and how they have been affected by them. Adjusting to the position of being more interested in listening than talking and thereby truly tuning in to your partner’s viewpoints can at first be an uncomfortable experience.
It’s less difficult to establish what your clients want to get out of the sessions than to focus on why they haven’t already achieved those goals. In many ways, the attitude that people have towards change is more important than the change that they decide to make – being open to new ways to overcome what may have become old and entrenched issues is going to be an essential part of the process.
One of the hardest elements of couple’s therapy is each person accepting how their behaviours, words and deeds have impacted their partner. It’s common for couples to show up with a list of complaints about the other person and with a real reluctance to focus on their own actions. However, being a more effective partner is the best way to improve a relationship and that is most likely to require both people to change. It comes down to a simple question; ‘what changes can I make to best meet the expressed needs of my partner.’ If both partners adopt that attitude, positivity will flow and change will occur.
The three key qualities of communication are respect, openness, and persistence. Working with a couple to help nurture these and pay attention to the problems they currently create when trying to communicate (e.g. unruly emotions or complaining) can be crucial.
Couples therapy is a complex arena in which to operate but considering the above points can help foster a nurturing and calm environment where the relationship can flourish.
The Grove has a strong reputation for running high-quality couples and relationship CPD courses, many of which are externally accredited. Our CPD programme is expanding in 2022 with more courses and more intakes, giving more choice and opportunity to learn from the experts from our centre of excellence.