Understand the past, embrace the present, enjoy the future

BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor

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Couple Counselling and Choice

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I may not know where you are reading this but I am certainly writing it in the wrong place!

The villa was booked in remote French countryside. Flights reserved and time away from the work place organised. There was nothing left to do but anticipate a pleasant few days with good wine, wonderful cheese, excellent company and a quiet read in the sunshine.  All was ready. 

Then from the radio came those ominous words… “The French Air Traffic Controllers are to go on strike from………”

What great timing. The strike could not have been more focussed.  The industrial action (presumably inaction?) was to commence on Tuesday and my flight was on Wednesday. The strike was to end on Sunday which was when I was scheduled to return.   For a few moments I was left fantasising as to which deity I had upset and what malevolent influence was at work.

Nevertheless, all has not been not lost.  I have still been able to use the time to enjoy some great wine and cheese and a quiet read although not alas with the original excellent company or the pleasant sunshine I was expecting.  The scenery has also been rather different. I intended to write (including this blog) inspired by the rolling hills of France. Instead the prevailing influence has been that of the gentle folds of the Hampshire countryside.

But why you may wonder am I bothering you with this tale of woe via what is supposed to be a counselling blog?  Just what does this unfortunate sequence of events have to do with therapy.  In what way does this disruption of my holiday plans impact on counselling – and couple counselling in particular.

Well there is a link and it is around choice. l certainly had some decisions to make. As is often the case with this type of dispute there was uncertainty over whether the flights would be cancelled or not.  And in the absence of anything definite from the airline I had to decide what to do.

I could have spent time travelling to the airport and then waiting in the lounge hoping that the flight would eventually get away.   As I was only going for a few days however, did I really want to spend time waiting around only for the flight to be eventually cancelled?  Or alternatively I could switch to Eurostar and pay extra for the privilege of spending time on SNCF. Or did I just imitate the Gallic shrug, mutter into my Beaujolais, let these few days in France slip away and take the opportunity to go elsewhere.  Lots of choices.  Lots of decisions to be made.

It seems that much counselling work with couples is also about choices and decisions. The link to comes in the comments I often hear from couples or individuals who are uncertain about their relationship.  When a major difficulty arises in a relationship, fault lines and doubts emerge. Those doubts solidify into major troubles.  And suddenly there are those choices to be made and decisions reached.

Do I stay in this relationship?  Is it worth persevering? Can I realistically expect things to improve and that the other person will start to listen to what I am trying to say. Can change really occur?  There has been an investment of time and emotion in the relationship.  There have been plans and dreams.  Should I stay with those plans.  How much more in terms of time and emotion do I invest before accepting that cancellation is inevitable?

What does cancellation mean?  Do I despair that this can ever come right?  Should I take that sense of despair on to any future relationships?  Alternatively, do I walk away only to immediately go and seek to arrange new adventures?

What about the anger.  Disrupted holiday plans are irritating but unlike the cancelled flight, abandoned relationships do not come with a refund. The cost of relationship break down can be high in emotional terms as well as practical pragmatic concerns such as finances and housing. Who will meet those costs?

Those thoughts may grow to anger, ranging from a simmering frustration to outright fury. For thwarted holiday makers, web sites such as Trip Advisor, provide an easy forum for written expression of that incandescent rage. Alternatively some individuals may take more direct action such as a sit in  (although in my  case I am not sure how one takes direct action against strikers who are taking direct action…..!?)

For disputing couples, social media can do all that Trip Advisor can do and more.  Facebook, Twitter et al, provide all too public channels for expression of hurt and rage; and the tabloids have filled columns with lurid descriptions of how spurned lovers have taken revenge from the destruction of clothing to the paint poured over the beloved car.  And those are probably the milder expressions of the fury that has been generated.

So we come back to choice.  What to do and how to decide. Whether to stay with the relationship and continue the journey or to accept that the dream has ended, the plans have been fatally disrupted and a new relationship destination should be sought.

There are lots of choices and many decisions to be made.  And unlike the mild irritation brought about by the disruption to travel plans, those decisions about relationships can be life changing with impacts which may go far beyond the two people involved.

Advice on thwarted travel plans is available from websites and information sources. Just log on, read the comments, study the reports and then decide what to do.  Support with regard to difficult relationship issues requires a little more thought. Perhaps there is a need to be a little more selective.

Views will be expressed by friends, family and colleagues but perhaps the most important conversations are the ones that have been had (or not) with the partner and also that internal dialogue with yourself. 

“What happened? What went wrong?   Who stopped listening. What do I really want?  What is really important to me, both now and in the future?”  It is with that type of internal dialogue where work with a couple counsellor can help. 

There is something about allowing ideas, thoughts, fears and hopes to be voiced within a safe space where there will not be a rush to judgement. To be able to wonder, to listen, to question and also to consider that next step can sometimes require support from someone outside – who is not a friend, or a relative or even the partner; and that is what relationship counselling can provide either to the couple or to an individual client .

Choices will eventually need to be made.  Those decisions may prove difficult and painful but within the counselling room they can at least be made in a way that honours the importance of the relationship that is being examined.

And so finally back to my disrupted holiday.  Well against the pain and sadness of relationship breakup my choice on whether to trudge round to Stansted or to look elsewhere is of course exceptionally trivial! 

Nevertheless the decision was made, alternatives sought and hence this note is bring written in a different place to that which I was expecting.   

I wonder if that may have impacted on the content?  Well, despite the changed location, the wine and cheese have still been very pleasant. And as far as France is concerned, well there is always next year .....although in my darker moments I do find myself wondering if  that may be exactly what the French Air Traffic Controllers are thinking!   


Geoff Boutle

added on 1st July 2014

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