Archive for couple counselling

Couple Counselling and Ending a Relationship when there are children

‘The ceremony of innocence is drowned/The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity/Things fall apart/The centre cannot hold.’ [W.B.Yeats]

Sometimes relationships come to an end.
And sometimes couple counselling is not about resolving issues, repairing the relationship, or reconnecting the couple.
Sometimes a couple starts therapy in order to manage their separation. Endings of any kind can unsettle, disturb and be profoundly upsetting. Couples seek counselling aware that they need to steady themselves and find a new equilibrium. They hope to uncover a different way of relating that will be as respectful and as amicable as possible. Recently Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were open about their commitment to the ‘conscious uncoupling’ of their relationship.

The old order has gone. Lives are different in so many ways and the repercussions ripple out. Moving out of ‘home’; dealing with the wider family and in-laws; managing old and shared friendships; stress; lack of sleep; health issues – all have an impact.
Lawyers will deal with the legalities. Mediators can help with finances. But the hurt and emotional disturbance needs to be addressed too.
In the face of the upheaval and feelings of vulnerability, there can be a preference for individual therapy. But, particularly when there are children involved, couple counselling can also be an important resource.

There is always a risk that children can get caught in the crossfire of unpleasant hostilities if a couple become adversaries. Frequently children overhear arguments when anger, frustration and resentment erupt and spill over. There are untold benefits in taking the time to communicate more calmly and effectively in front of them. Counselling can offer strategies for avoiding the open negative conflicts that have the potential to frighten a child.

Pulls of divided loyalties, feelings that they have to choose sides, can distress a child already confused and upset at the splintering of the family; and they certainly should not feel any responsibility to repair or be an intermediary.
Committing to keep in mind the best interests of the children, and to control any urges to score points, inflict hurt, or gain revenge, can be important agreed aims in the counselling when the future organisation of the family is being decided.

‘The point is not to end a marriage in some ideal or virtuous way… When breaking up… you need to do it in the best way you can. It is not in your interests to be still caught up in bitterness and anger ten years after breaking up, nor in passiveness and hopelessness… The more you can digest the emotional impact of a break-up, the freer you will be to move on… and it will leave you more emotionally open to help your children.’ [‘Breaking Up Blues – A Guide to Survival and Growth’ Denise Cullington]

The counselling room can be the ‘safe space’ where difficult conversations are contained so children are not overwhelmed by a fraught tension. They love both parents and it is frightening to witness parental hate and attack and difficult for children to evaluate and process adult rage. The separation may have already rocked the foundation of their world, they may feel shattered by the loss of the usual security, but they should not feel everything is out of control. Both parents have a role in supporting and guiding the children to manage the unavoidable grief and loss, and to navigate the changes in their lives as they know it.

However lives are organised after a separation, and however much the couple continues to see each other, their parental role means they will forever remain interconnected. It takes courage and resilience but, along with supportive couple counselling, the couple can find the resources to engage their adult parts in order to make that as flexible and as constructive a connection as possible.

Kathy Rees

Making the Most of Couples Therapy

I’ve often wondered why some couples find couples therapy a ‘Life ‘Saver’ and others find it less than helpful or a waste of time. I’ve made a list of the ways to come into couple’s therapy to help maximize the process.

The truth is, couple therapy is not easy. It was only until I went to a
Couple’s therapist with my own husband a few years back that I truly appreciated what a difficult process it is.

Unlike individual therapy, there is nowhere to hide in couple’s therapy. Despite this, couple counseling provides a safe space to say things to one another, honestly and directly. It also provides an opportunity to learn about yourself with your partner as witness.

Couples who find therapy helpful are often the ones….

Who come to therapy before their problems get so bad that they are unable to address them without very hard feelings building up inside them.

Couples who are clear that couple therapy is a way to work through their issues and who feel comfortable with knowing what might be discovered within that process.

Couples who saw their parents argue but who also saw them work through issues in a civil and respective way.

Couples where, from the beginning of the relationship, felt able to express themselves and were able to listen to their partner’s point of view.

Who see an issue as an issue and not the end of their relationship.

Couples who can see they have a part to play in the relationship and don’t automatically blame their partner.

Couples who work together and see their partner separately from themselves and who accept that their partner thinks differently, feels differently and reacts differently.

Couples who are able to see that going to couple therapy isn’t a weakness but actually a way to strengthen their relationship and give them the tools and resources to make them stronger.

Couples who don’t find it useful feel the opposite!
Note: The above list suggests that couples that come into therapy with this template wouldn’t actually need therapy (a valid point). This list is more of a guideline to work towards and to keep in mind.

Maximizing Couple Therapy:

Very simply, the way to get the most out of couple’s therapy is exactly the same way as to make the most of your relationship. Be present, be honest, be kind, listen, reflect and be open. Ok, it sounds easier than it is but relationships take effort, time and risks.
Without opening your heart to your partner the possibility of being truly known will not happen.


Shirlee Kay

How to survive the empty nest

All over the country in the last few weeks tens of thousands of families have had a child leaving for college or university. For some couples, this is the first child leaving and there is a lot of planning to do for the imminent departure in terms of kitting out their room and preparations for them to live away from home for the first time. If there are other children still living at home or the student remains living with their parents, the change and adjustments are not always as poignant and focussed. When the last child leaves home, however, the empty nest is a reality and this can be a testing time for couples.

For young people it is a rite of passage: leaving home, becoming more self sufficient and resourceful and making their own way in the world – something every parent would want for their child. But for the parents it is a huge adjustment when they begin to change their role in their children’s lives. It is a time of mixed feelings – of joy and excitement, but it can bring loss and loneliness too. The fridge is no longer emptied at the same rate – the house is quieter as it is no longer filled with noisy teenagers – and remains clean and tidier for longer. But how do couples manage this between them? The focus shifts from parenting back to the couple and this can bring about a crisis. Can the relationship survive this increase in time together? It propels couple relationships into a vulnerable phase and there are many couples who aren’t able to make this transition and do separate in the years after their children leave home.

So what can couples do in these first few weeks and months to prevent that happening?

TALK to each other about how they feel about the empty nest – sadness and loss – or a relief?

RECOGNISE and ACCEPT that their feelings might be different and try to understand the other’s experience.

TAKE up a new hobby or interest – try to make the most of the extra time you have

RECONNECT with friends that you haven’t seen for a while

MAKE PLANS for theatre, cinema or weekends away – you may have more flexibility and opportunities – use it.

LET GO – whatever you do don’t hang on to your child in order to fill the gaps in your life and your relationship. Don’t live your life through them.

ALLOW them to become the adults you have wanted them to be and allow yourselves to enter into this new stage in your life and relationship.

Coupleworks see many people coming for couple counselling at this stage in their lives. Often they have neglected their relationship for many years in favour of family activities. Children have covered up gaps and resentments and difficulties that have not been addressed. Counselling can provide an opportunity for these issues to be worked through and a chance to rebuild a connection that may have been lost or stifled.

Sarah Fletcher