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BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor

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Couple Counselling & Valentine’s Day

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February can be a particularly desolate month.  Christmas is past and the summer seems a long way off.  Perhaps that is why we are so quick to alight on Valentine’s Day as something to celebrate.  Those cards and messages which are usually associated with Valentine’s Day invite us to think about romance, relationships and that elusive thing called love.

The style of the greetings cards varying from humour to kitsch, reflects the very different way in which we may respond to this call to celebrate.  For some it will be a time for the proverbial wine and roses.  Alternatively the day may pass unnoticed. Others may spend Valentine ’s Day in despair because the longed for card from him/her did not arrive.  There may also be the individual who growls suspiciously at their partner because a card for their spouse did arrive but the growling one had not sent it. So how come! Who did it come from?  And why! 

Great fun – or perhaps not!

At this time of year some couples will still be struggling to recover from the totally unreasonable demands placed upon them by the enforced togetherness of the festive season.  Valentine’s Day can add to that strain by providing another focus on the relationship and how it should be. If there are already concerns about what is happening or perhaps not happening, , then this misty eyed representation of what the magazines tell us should be true love, wonderful orgasmic sex and a soulful meeting of minds, can be really unhelpful. 

It is not surprising that therapists who work with couples find this to be a busy time of year. The increase in the number of contacts we receive from couples who have challenges in their relationship can be a reflection of those seasonal influences. 

The increased referrals may also be seen as an acknowledgement that relationship counselling is proving to be helpful. There is now a wider acceptance that if sought at the right time, couple counselling can provide useful additional encouragement for a relationship which may be going through a difficult time

Outcomes from relationship counselling will depend on many existing factors. This can include the general health of the relationship in all its different guises, the emotional robustness of each party and also what each individual is looking for in life as well as in the relationship.

Sometimes the relationship may already be strong and it is merely some fine tuning that is required around timing or communication issues.  Good communication requires time. A decision to go for couple counselling and to set aside a precise time to meet, can be the catalyst which helps the couple to re-establish good practice.

There may be other situations where the relationship is in real danger and the couple need more active support in finding again that sense of togetherness and intimacy. 

We should also recognise that there will be those times when the relationship has perhaps run its course. In those situations the two individuals may need some external help in working through that difficult process of disentanglement. That can be especially important is that parting is to be achieved with a minimum amount of hurt and disruption particularly if children are involved.

As with one to one individual work, relationship counselling must be driven by the needs of the individuals seeking support. The role of the therapist is to provide what is appropriate in each specific situation.  Sometimes the therapist may function as an arbiter, a facilitator, a passive witness or an active intermediary.

Whatever the role, the recent increase in relationship counselling seems to be suggesting that for some couples, the involvement of a counsellor has been helpful. But how can we decide if it is right for us at this time?

I often reflect that therapy work of whatever modality is one of the most voluntary activities that we can undertake. That is true whatever the approach, be it for example, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) psychodynamic counselling or solution focussed therapy; and whether the work is with individuals or with couples.

The decision whether to go ahead, to continue or stop the sessions is under the control of the client.  There are no imperatives. If the counselling work seems to be helpful then continue and if it seems to be of little or no benefit then stop. And it can be as simple as that.

In many cases there does appear to be benefit to be gained. At the right time and with the right therapist, relationship counselling like individual one to one work, can prove to be of very real assistance.

There is usually so much invested in a relationship with a partner. Something important has been built and nurtured over many years.   As with other aspects of life there is a lot to lose if things go wrong. There is also much to be gained if difficult situations can be resolved with the love and intimacy of the relationship re-established.

The decision to look for external support in the form of couple counselling is a brave one to make but it is one which for some couples may be what is needed at this time.

And as far as this time is concerned, perhaps we should all be prepared on February 14th to look out for those cards – whether coming from him, her or perhaps even from the unexplained or the unexpected!!   

Geoff Boutle

added on 1st February 2015

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