Why do couples seek couples therapy?


We had a fascinating lecture on couples therapy this week.  This followed our weekend on sexual abuse. The lecture addressed the issues involved when the day of reckoning came for all relationships.   The reckoning day is when the honeymoon period ends (and this can vary as a time-span from couple to couple) and when the real work starts in the relationship. The initial lust has ended and the period of really getting to know each other starts in earnest. Invariably, there is an unhealthy power balance in the relationship brought about by class, sex, money or some cultural difference. Real love is needed to overcome such power issues.

So, what is love? There was an interesting Scott Peck quote that was mentioned in the lecture: Real love is the unqualified wish to help another person to get where they want to get.  However, more often than not, relationships are a mix of co-dependence or some other form of addiction or unhealthy imbalance.

I found myself asking the following questions: Is the initial attraction located in the shadow?  Rather than initial physical attraction, do we attract people and are we attracted to people where there is an unconscious desire to address certain issues?

Your partner will invariably confront you with something you need to address when the temptation might be to run and start another relationship. However, it is possible that some people will only help you for part of your journey.  Whilst every relationship can offer a useful insight into your own processes, there are some who will only help you part of the way.

communication is a problem for couples seeking couples therapy

So why do couples seek couples therapy?  Invariably, communication is a problem for couples seeking couples therapy. There may also be intimacy problems. If there is too much parental stuff going on in the relationship the passion will suffer.  This can happen when the man is acting as the boy and wanting to be mothered in the relationship.  The partner then becomes like mommy.  There is an imbalance in the masculine and the feminine. After all, who can have sexual fantasies about their mom?   This can happen for couples irrespective of sexual orientation.

We discussed a communication exercise whereby couples are asked to sit with each other for 30 minutes each day.  It might be indicative of their willingness to work things out if couples can’t find 30 minutes to do this. The exercise involves one person talking about the issues they have with the other. After 10 minutes the listener repeats back what they heard and can be corrected.  This is then repeated with the roles reversed.  Often we do things that annoy others but if the error of our ways is pointed out to us the unconscious mind can do most of the work in correcting areas of tension. Most people do not set out on their day to upset others.

This communication exercise needs to become a habit, perhaps like the practice of meditation, to be truly effective.  It needs to be daily.  That is perhaps what it means to be  faithful. The fidelity of the practice can bring reward. The aim of the daily practice would be that couples reduce their baggage between each other to 24 hours worth of issues rather than a lifetime of resentments and petty squabbles.

Is the secret to not need anything from your partner?

What is a healthy relationship? Is the secret to not need anything from your partner.  That sounds very Buddhist, I know. Can you give without wishing anything in return?  Are you capable of standing on your own two feet? Perhaps a healthy relationship is when two people, relatively independent, come together to run a better show as a couple than they would on their own.   Such a relationship is not based on an unhealthy need which can lead to co-dependence. “Need” is often the breeding ground for addiction.

Guidelines for working with couples:

  • Anything talked about should be with both partners present.  One party in the relationship not discuss anything with the therapist unless the other is present.
  • Don’t let one of the parties run the show.
  • Ask them at the start do they wish to stay together or do they wish to successfully end the relationship.  Ending the relationship successfully is far better if children are involved.
  • Watch if one speaks for the other.  That might indicate a power dynamic in the union.
  • Are the children the priority?  There might be some Electra/oedipal complex going on.

on-line affairs are likely to feel as much a betrayal as a real life affair

Has the internet and on-line affairs increased the number of break ups? It is not the internet that is to blame for the rise in break-ups and relationship problems caused by on-line affairs. As adults we have choices. Whether to engage in what technology has to offer, or not to engage. Technology can offer greater access to affordable and anonymous liaisons but that doesn’t mean that it will reduce the trauma of a partner discovering your affair. They are likely to feel as much a betrayal as a real life affair.

Perhaps the best relationships are those where each person sees the other as their best friend. Is the initial attraction located in the shadow?  Perhaps it is, as we live out myths in in our lives until we work more deeply on ourselves in therapy. Do we unconsciously pick people that remind us of our parents?  That’s a question for another day…..


NHS couples therapy video by Denise Knowles Experienced couples counsellor Denise Knowles talks about couples therapy
Psychology Today 5 Principles of Effective Couples Therapy
Relate: the relationship people
Find out more about training to become a Relate counsellor, including course dates and venues, at the Relate Institute website.
The Evidence Base of Systemic Family and Couples Therapies
The Association for Family Therapy & Systemic Practice


One thought on “Why do couples seek couples therapy?

  1. Communication is important in marriage.Being open to your partner is essential.I agree.Internet is not the one to blame for on-line affairs but the person doing it.We always have a choice whether to do it or not.Thanks.I learned a lot here.

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