Very few intimate relationships exist conflict-free. Conflict may range from the occasional disagreement to constant arguing where the relationship is close to breaking down. When this happens, our health and happiness can really start to suffer.
Relationship counselling (also known as ‘couples counselling’ or ‘marriage counselling’) can help couples overcome problems in their relationship if they cannot resolve their difficulties alone. It is an effective form of talking therapy designed to help couples find new ways to resolve conflicts, build trust and improve communication. It offers a couple the opportunity of speaking to an impartial person who has the expertise and skilled training to help them explore and identify their toxic relationship patterns and to help the couple work on changing these.
The ultimate goal of relationship counselling is to work towards a more successful and improved relationship.
How do you know if you need relationship counselling?
The catalyst for requiring counselling may be for many reasons. It could be that you are agreeing more frequently, struggling to agree on anything together, feeling that you are drifting apart or financial pressures. Money, affairs, feeling misunderstood or stuck in a relationship are some of the typical issues that bring couples to counselling.
Some couples use relationship counselling as a way to keep their relationship healthy and address any underlying concerns that may become conflicts in the future.
Each situation is unique but other reasons could include:
- Lack of trust.
- Different values and goals.
- Feeling neglected or unfulfilled emotional needs.
- Conflicting parenting styles or issues.
- Life changes, such as bereavement, losing a job or retirement.
- Career pressure.
- Health issues.
- Cultural or religious differences.
- Wider family issues.
- Lack of intimacy or sexual problems.
- Anger issues.
Can relationship counselling really save a relationship?
It depends. Counselling is hard work and there are no guarantees. The effectiveness of couples counselling is largely dependent on the motivation and commitment level of both partners and when counselling is started. The counselling will guide you in identifying patterns and behaviours that are damaging your relationship. Studies show that 75% of relationships are restored with effective therapy sessions. If both parties have made the decision to attend couples counselling to better their relationship, then with commitment it is possible to save a relationship.
For some couples, counselling may become more about management of ending the relationship as they have already given up on trying to make the relationship work. Sometimes, the problems in a marriage can be too embedded for the counselling to be effective or couples cannot find common ground.
What are the benefits of relationship counselling?
Some of the uses and benefits of counselling for relationship problems include:
- Helping couples to recognise behavioural patterns that trigger disagreements.
- Helping couples to explore new ways to improve communication and resolve disagreements.
- Helping couples to manage conflict in a healthier way.
- Helping couples to agree how the relationship should end without conflict or hostility.
- Helping couples to gain a better understanding of each other’s perspective and find ways to compromise.
- Helping couples to work towards a deeper connection and understanding of each other.
- Helping couples to manage expectations within the relationship.
- Helping the individuals within the relationship to better understand their feelings and actions.
- Helping a couple cope with changes.
- Helping to heal old issues.
- Helping to improve physical and sexual connection.
- Helping the couple to recognise an abusive relationship.
- Helping to set goals together.
- Helping couples to learn how to approach financial conflicts before they arise.
Relationship counselling and divorce
In England and Wales despite the introduction of no-fault divorce, the concept of reconciliation and trying to save the relationship still exists.
In every case where the applicant to a divorce or dissolution is legally represented, the legal representative must, unless the court directs otherwise, complete and file with the application for divorce/dissolution a document called a Statement of Reconciliation. This is a statement certifying whether the legal representative has discussed with the applicant the possibility of a reconciliation and given the applicant the names and addresses of persons qualified to help effect a reconciliation. This also applies to joint applications for divorce or dissolution where both parties agree to the end of the relationship.
In Australia this is taken even further where it is a legal requirement for some separated couples to attend counselling before they are eligible to file an Application for Divorce. Couples who have been married for less than two years (calculated from the day of marriage to the date of Application for Divorce) can only make an application for divorce if they:
- Attend counselling with an approved family counsellor to discuss the prospect of reconciliation; or
- With the permission of the court.
The counsellor must provide a certificate that confirms the couple attended counselling and that the counsellor discussed the possibilities of reconciliation. The certificate must be attached to the divorce application when it is filed with the court.
The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that couples have considered all the options to improve the relationship before seeking a hasty divorce when they encounter the first difficulties of married life.
Despite the assumption that relationship counselling is only for couples on the verge of a relationship breakdown, the reality is that it can be beneficial for any couple at any time. Whether a couple are in a new relationship, new parents, or a couple who have been together for decades; couples counselling can be used as a way to keep the relationship fresh and healthy.
Is divorce coaching the same as couples counselling?
No, they are two completely different things.
Divorce coaching is a flexible, future-oriented process that is meant to support, motivate, and guide people through a separation, divorce or dissolution. A divorce coach’s role is to problem solve and help their client move forward in a positive way.
A Divorce Coach is like having your own personal Project Manager who will be by your side as you go through the difficult project of separation or divorce. Like a coach for a sports team, divorce coaches don’t do the work for you. Instead, they motivate and arm you with the knowledge, communication and negotiations skills, and strategies to help you handle and navigate the varied challenges of separation and divorce. They can provide a wide range of emotional, organizational, motivational and support assistance that a person needs as they go through a relationship breakdown.
Divorce coaching is at the opposite end of the spectrum and occurs once a person or a couple have decided to end their relationship. It can begin pre-divorce and continue post-divorce.