What is Couple/Relationship/Marriage Counselling?
You have chosen to spend your life with someone you love (or once loved). Couple/Relationship/Marriage Counselling is a process where you can explore issues that are affecting you as a couple. These can include:
emotional and physical intimacy (both including and excluding sex)
depression or other mental illness
activities outside the home, and
extended family & friends.
A relationship counsellor will help facilitate you and your partner to find your own solutions.
When you talk to someone objective who doesn't know you or your story, it can often help you make sense of how you have got to the place you are now in your life. A trained counsellor or therapist can offer suggestions and present alternative points of view that can assist you to develop new, more helpful strategies to manage the challenges that arise for you.
Some people come to relationship counselling saying that the other person is at fault. This will not assist you in building a closer, more intimate relationship. Both successful and unsuccessful relationships are a team effort, even when something "big" (such as an affair) has brought you into the counselling room.
It is up to you both to commit to the process of change, with the assistance of your counsellor or therapist. It is important that you establish some goals early in the process with your therapist so you can all assess your progress.
One of the major benefits of counselling is that what you say in the counselling room is confidential. There are some exceptions to this:
When you or someone else is at risk of serious harm
When children are in danger
When you give permission for your information to be shared (for example, with your doctor or lawyer)
When there is more than one person involved and individual sessions have been included during the therapeutic process, it can be more complicated. The counsellor should take separate notes for individual sessions from couple sessions. Once again, you are entitled to your privacy - some counsellors will hold information that you are not ready to share, and others have very clear policies that this will not happen. Regardless of the individual styles of counsellors, it is a good idea for the sake of your relationship to share as much information as possible that may affect you as a couple. A good counsellor will assist you to plan how to share information in a kind, respectful, considered way, especially if the information is potentially volatile.
We've been together for ages? If we haven't got it sorted now, will we ever?
Even people who had robust, consistent early family situations and felt safe, loved and cared for when they were growing up aren't always armed with the skills they need to have a successful relationship. Even if you are both speaking the same "language", you might not be speaking the same "language"! Some new tools, which are not overly complicated, can help you reach different understandings and you will wonder how you managed to misunderstand each other so effectively for so long!
Can our relationship recover from an affair?
It can be challenging to put a relationship back together after an affair has been revealed. It takes a commitment to explore all avenues that may have contributed to the affair. Suzi has worked with many couples in this situation and is comfortable exploring these issues with her clients.
How many times do we need to come to counselling?
It depends on what type of issues you present to your counsellor. Some couples cannot be in the same room without extreme conflict and some just want a few additional 'tools' to manage their own issues better. If you are having a particularly difficult time, you may want to attend counselling weekly to begin with and increase the time between sessions as you feel you are more able to manage.
Do we both need to come to improve our relationship?
The short answer is no. You can make a difference to your relationship, by building your own awareness of how you are as a partner and person. Some people don't engage their partner in the counselling process at all.
There are significant benefits to bringing your partner as well. This can include practising some of the new skills you are taught in the room, and receiving feedback about them from your counsellor. Some of the things that only trigger you about your partner can be unpacked and understood better, as they may not happen when you're in an individual session.
Suzi's experience is that couple work can move at a faster pace if both people are engaged. Where that isn't possible, she will work with who and what you bring, to collaborate for the best possible outcomes.
What if I don't want to talk about some topics?
Some topics are too personal or you are feeling too vulnerable to discuss them in the early stages. It takes time to trust a new person, and assuming your counsellor is a good "fit" (see this page for more information), you will become more comfortable over time. It is never ok to feel bullied or coerced into talking about something. This is why it's important to see someone who has had professional training and is a member of a professional body like the New Zealand Association of Counsellors.
What if one or both of us wants to leave the relationship? Will the counsellor try to keep us together?
It is not up to the counsellor to decide whether you should stay together as a couple. Sometimes it becomes obvious during the counselling process that one person is not committed to staying in the relationship or has already emotionally "left" (even if they remain physically). Your counsellor can assist you to separate with dignity, taking into consideration the needs of all parties including children and pets (if applicable).
What types of relationships will Suzi work with?
Suzi is happy to work with all types of relationship setups, as long as consenting adults are involved. She is comfortable working with:
same sex relationships
kink and sexually explorative dynamics (including swinging)
de facto relationships
long distance relationships
basically any kind of relationships where openness and transparency is encouraged.