“Love is destroyed when self-interest dominates.” - Ghita
Problems occur in partnerships when reality departs sharply from our expectations, hopes, desires, and concerns. It’s human nature to try and change one’s partner instead of adjusting our expectations. This aspect of human nature is what keeps counsellors in business.
Common Reasons for Counselling:
How to Maximise the Value from Your Couples Therapy Sessions
In order to get the most from your couples counselling sessions, it is helpful to be aware of unproductive patterns, so that you know what to avoid when you go to your therapy sessions. A common, yet unproductive pattern in couples counselling, is focusing on the problem that you have at the moment. This is a reactive (and mostly ineffective) approach to resolving issues.
The Unhelpful Things Couples do:
The hardest part of couples counselling is accepting that you need to improve your response to a problem (how you think about it, feel about it, or what you need to do about it). Very few people want to focus on improving their response. It’s more common to build a strong case for why the other person should do the improving. This is not a good attitude to have when going to couples counselling. If you want to create a win-win solution, you cannot hold a position that has caused your partner to lose in the past.
Learning About Yourself and Your Reactions
How to tell if you are not focusing on your own behaviour: In the session, you will be talking more about what your partner is doing, or not doing, and building a case as to why they should change. There is only one antidote - re-focus back on yourself! What this means is, you get to understand what annoys you, what pushes your buttons, and how to handle things.
To Create Sustained Improvement in Your Relationship, You Will Need:
Trade-offs, Tough Choices and Time
To create the relationship you really desire, there will be some difficult trade-offs and tough choices for both of you. The first trade-off will be time. It simply takes time to create a relationship that flourishes: time to be together, time to be with family, time to play, coordinate, nurture, relax, hang out, and plan. This time will encroach on some other activity.
The second compromise is comfort: That means emotional comfort, like going out on a limb to try novel ways of things, listening (active listening) and being curious instead of butting in, speaking up instead of becoming resentfully compliant or withdrawing. In the beginning, there will be emotional risks in taking action, but you will never explore different worlds if you always keep sight of the shoreline. In addition, few people are emotionally comfortable being confronted with how they don’t live their values or being confronted with the consequences of their actions.
The other comfort that will be challenged is energy comfort. It simply takes effort to sustain improvement over time, staying conscious of making a difference over time, remembering to be more respectful, more giving, more appreciative, etc. It takes effort to remember and act.
Don’t pull the pin on your relationship just because you fight!
Sessions might pass in silence as you and your partner remain angry over perceived wrongs, or you might yell or argue during sessions. Both are okay. Your counsellor can act as a mediator and help you cope with the resulting emotions.
In couples counselling there is a fair bit of direction from a counsellor. This is because people can get caught up in a blame story, or are in therapy to demonstrate some sort of justice. When clients are defensive, or hypersensitive to criticism, a session can end up being wasted on just placating one party who is sulking.
In all these areas, there is generally a conflict between short-term gratification and the long-term goal of creating a satisfying relationship. The blunt reality is that, in an interdependent relationship, some effort is required on the part of each person to make a sustained improvement. It is like pairs figure skating – one person cannot do most of the work and still create an exceptional team.
Successful Couples Counsellors Have to Blunt
Counsellors such as myself, try to be as neutral as much as possible, however sometimes it is their job to confront people with story inconsistencies, contrary body language and to do a type of reality checking. Moreover, this can be hard for some people to accept if they are not in touch with their emotions, or they they have a habit blame others to avoid conflict. While counsellors try to appear unbiased and sensitive to both parties, in order to do their jobs properly and to keep therapy on track, they do have to call clients out on their junk and tell clients when their behaviour is counter-productive, alienating or abusive.
To get the most out of your money in session, our job is not to be your friend, but to show you the best methods for getting your relationship back on track, and sometimes this means asking you to take responsibility for past events, so that you can move forwards and focus on the future.
You Can’t Fix a Marriage in One Session
Couples should be aware that because there are two people telling their side of a story, it is unlikely that one session will sort out a couples’ issues. Please expect to invest in your healing for anywhere from 4 -12 sessions.
Attitude is Key
Positive Attitude - You Can do it! When working towards improving your relationship, your attitude towards change is more important than the action you need to take. It is relatively easy to determine what to do and how to do it. The real challenge is getting yourself to actually do it.
Learning how to think differently about a problem is often more effective than thinking about what action you need to take. The fact is, your partner is limited in his or her ability to respond to you and vice versa. Accepting this fact is a huge step towards maturity.
There is a definite possibility that you have flawed assumptions about your partner’s motives and that he/ she may also have flawed assumptions about yours. The problem is, most of the time, we refuse to believe that those assumptions are flawed.
Focus on Changing Yourself Rather than Your Partner
You can learn a lot about yourself by understanding what annoys you and how you handle it. Couples Therapy works best if you have more goals for yourself than for your partner. I am at my best when I help you reach the objectives you set for yourself.
When the Honeymoon is Over
It’s easy to be considerate and loving to your partner when the vistas are magnificent, the sun is shining, and breeze is gentle. But when it gets bone-chilling cold, you’re hungry and tired, and your partner is whining and sniveling about how you got them into this mess, that’s when you get tested.
“The more you believe that your partner should be different, the less initiative you will take to change the patterns between you.” - Ghita
You can’t change your partner. Your partner can’t change you. You can influence each other, but that doesn’t mean you can change each other. Becoming a more effective partner is the most efficient way to change a relationship.
Zen and the Art of Body Language
All significant growth comes from disagreements, dissatisfaction with the current status, or striving to make things better. Paradoxically, accepting that conflict produces growth and learning to manage inevitable disagreements is the key to more harmonious relationships.
Asking the right questions of yourself and your partner, helps you uncover causes beneath causes.
The Importance of Communication
The three most important elements for effective communication are respect, openness, and persistence. Communication is the number one presenting problem in couples counselling. Good communication is much more difficult than most people want to believe. Effective negotiation is even harder.
A couple’s vision emerges from a process of reflection and inquiry. It requires both people to speak from the heart about what really matters to each. We are all responsible for how we express ourselves, no matter how others treat us.
Effective communication means you need to pay attention to:
Sometimes, counselling helps couples to realise that their differences truly are irreconcilable and that it's best to end the relationship. Sessions can then focus on skills for ending the relationship on good terms (conscious uncoupling). It is worth noting that Ghita can refer couples to family dispute mediation (FDR) if they have children (or property), as she also works in mediation.
*Please note that Ghita cannot mediate the same couples that she counsels for ethical reasons.
You Can Attend by Yourself
If your partner refuses to attend marriage counselling sessions, you can still attend individual sessions. It's more challenging to mend a relationship this way, but you can benefit by learning more about your own reactions and behaviour.
Sometimes, during couples counselling one party will become angry and walk out of the session. Please note that counselling fees must still be paid and appointments require 24 hours notice of cancellation. See ghitaandersen.com for further FAQ.
I often suggest communication exercises for couples to use at home to help clients to practice what they have learned during the session. For example, talk face-to-face with partners for a few minutes every day about nonstressful things - without any interruptions from electronics or children. Alternatively, having two hours each evening of no electronics (phones, internet) to benefit family time, eye gazing - a five-minute exercise, or scheduled date nights once a week for couples.
Some Final Thoughts
I look forward to helping you work to overcome your issues and have the relationship you desire, and for you to be the person you aspire to be in your life. Change is possible!
Thanks for taking the time to improve your relationship by reading this blog.