Relationship Therapy - Start Here......

Thinking about making a last-ditch effort to
avoid a breakup?
Here’s everything you need to know beforehand and how to make the most of couples therapy........

So after falling in love, being in love, maybe getting married or living together for long enough to think it would be forever, you (possibly not entirely unexpectedly) find yourselves on the verge of a breakup. But you’re not sure that you want to just walk away from this person. Yes, there are issues between you, they sometimes drive you to meltdown, there may be temptations – the old proverb about the grass being greener, and all that stuff – but you have been together forever, and there have been a lot of fun times. Also, moving is expensive, and do you really want to sort through, and argue over, many years of accumulated possessions? No, you don’t. So in a rare show of agreement, you two decide to give couples therapy a try as a last-ditch attempt to save your relationship.

And the sooner you get your relationship into therapy, the better. The longer you wait, the more entrenched bad relationship habits (yelling, ignoring, prioritising Call of Duty or Eastenders instead of date nights) can become, and the harder it is to break them. Unfortunately, people tend to see couples therapy as an emergency measure, rather than as a preventative one. It’s the equivalent of not worrying about those chest pains - until you’re in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

While couples therapy can certainly help in many situations, it isn’t the miracle overnight solution some people believe it to be. So we need some guidelines about what couples therapy can actually solve, and how to make the most of it.

"I will love you always. When this red hair is white, I will still love you. When the smooth softness of youth is replaced by the delicate softness of age, I will still want to touch your skin. When your face is full of the lines of every smile you have ever smiled, of every surprise I have seen flash through your eyes, when every tear you have ever cried has left its mark upon your face, I will treasure you all the more, because I was there to see it all. I will share your life with you, ..... and I will love you until the last breath leaves your body or mine.”                                                                             ― Laurell K. Hamilton, A Lick of Frost

What is couples therapy/relationship therapy?

Couples therapy is a type of counselling in which a therapist, with clinical experience working with couples, helps two people involved in a romantic relationship gain insight into their relationship, resolve conflict and improve relationship satisfaction using a variety of therapeutic interventions. Although the detailed practice of couples therapy may vary, depending on the therapist’s theoretical orientation, all couples therapy tends to involve the following general elements:

  • A focus on a specific problem (i.e. sexual difficulties, Internet addiction, jealousy)
  • Active participation on the part of the therapist in treating the relationship itself, rather than each individual separately.
  • Solution-focused, change-oriented interventions early on in the process.
  • A clear establishment of outcome objectives.

Couples therapy will usually begin with some standard interview questions regarding the history of the relationship, as well as some exploration into each partner’s family-of-origin, values and cultural background.   We might use the initial sessions for crisis intervention if necessary.

I will then assist you in identifying the issue that will be the focus of treatment, then establishing treatment goals and planning a structure for treatment.

During the treatment phase, I will help both of you gain insight into the relational dynamics which are maintaining the problem, while helping both partners understand each of their roles in the dysfunctional interactions. This will help you change the way you perceive the relationship and each other.

Although gaining insight is important, another crucial aspect of couples therapy involves actually changing behaviours and ways of interacting with each other.   At various points in the process I may assign you homework, to apply the skills you have learned in therapy to your day-to-day interactions.

Most couples can come away from couples therapy having gained insight into relational patterns and increased emotional expression, as well as having developed the skills necessary to communicate and problem-solve with each other more effectively.

Who is couples therapy for?

Couples therapy is beneficial for any kind of relationship, whatever the basis and structure of your relationship.  For example, a recently engaged couple might find premarital counselling an invaluable opportunity to address relationship expectations prior to getting married.  Another couple, together 25 years, might discover couples therapy is an effective way for them to reconnect and regain a sense of excitement and romance in their relationship.

Couples therapy can resolve a current problem, prevent an escalation of problems or simply provide a “check-up” for a happy couple that is experiencing a period of transition or increased stress.  Common areas of concern addressed in couples therapy include issues with money, parenting, sex, infidelity, in-laws, chronic health issues, infertility, gambling, substance use, emotional distance and frequent conflict.

You are not the client. The relationship is the client.

In common with most couples therapists I have a “No Secrets Rule.” That means everything you share individually with me is also shared with your partner. For example, you can’t divulge an affair to me and then expect me to conceal that from your partner. Keeping secrets would suggest that the therapist has formed an alliance with one partner, which could aggravate any mistrust that’s already in the relationship. Also, don’t expect one partner to be the focus of the therapy. Yes, even if that partner was the one who cheated. Even if they’re the one with the drinking problem. Or even if they’re the one who isn’t interested in sex any more. This is about the both of you as a unit, not either of you as individuals.

Make an effort. For your own sake.

One of the hardest things for couples who are deciding whether or not to break up, is that their uncertainty about the future of the relationship often makes them reluctant to do the work.  But doing this work will help you no matter what becomes of the relationship.  Human beings behave in patterns. Whether we leave the relationship or not, we take our baggage and our history with us - it will follow us wherever we go, until we resolve it. Neglect to do so, and it’s likely you’ll repeat the same unhealthy behaviours and follow the same patterns in your next relationship, too.

It’s going to take time.

All that work I just described? It’s not going to be a quick and easy fix. You’re going to be asked to do a shedload of emotional hard labour; to be vulnerable about your desires, to be honest about what you don’t like about your relationship, and to be open to hearing criticism of your own actions.  Of course it’ll be enlightening and fascinating.  But it will also be painful and gruelling and uncomfortable a lot of the time.

Many couples expect therapy to be a magic wand.  But, just as it took some time for the relationship to deteriorate to this low point, it’s going to take a while to get it back on track and functional. Changing the course of a relationship is like making a U-turn in a cruise ship. While the specific number of sessions depends entirely on the couple and the therapeutic approach used, on average you can expect to spend anywhere from 12-30 hours in couples therapy.  At one hour a week, that means it can take over six months of weekly sessions to get to a point where a couple feels like they’re ready to stop going to therapy.

Relationships are all about patterns. Therapy is all about changing those patterns.

Consider the example of a client who comes to couples therapy complaining about their partner not wanting to do the dishes.  They yell at their partner, who in turn storms off.  But, as I’m sure you know by now, this person’s dissatisfaction is not really about the dishes. More likely, it’s about feeling unsupported or undervalued . In any case, the underlying problem that presents as annoyance about the dishes doesn’t stop with the dishes. It seeps into other parts of the relationship. With couples therapy, ultimately the goal is to change the patterns of relating and create the love we want.

I’m not not going to tell you what to do.

You might already know that a therapist doesn’t give advice.  Besides, knowing the right thing to do is far removed from actually doing it. Most couples know that their arguments are futile, hurtful, and unproductive, but it doesn’t stop them from having them. (Plus, friends and family are usually more than willing to give you advice if that’s what you’re looking for). Along the same line, therapists are not arbitrators. I cannot—and will not—decide which of you is correct about the offside rule or whether it’s actually important to separate lights and darks in the wash. My job is to identify patterns that you and your partner engage in, and then to help you change those patterns, by responding with kindness instead of snapping, or by opening up about what you really need rather than shutting down.  Anything that repeatedly presents as a stressor or a roadblock in the relationship is a pattern that can be addressed.

What I can do, though, is help you make a decision.

If deciding whether or not to break up is the main issue, coming to a mutual decision can be the goal of your therapy. I won’t ever be the one to say, ‘Yes, you should stay together’ or, ‘No, you shouldn’t.’  Hopefully through therapy and reflection, discussion and shared vulnerability, you as a couple will arrive at a decision. So can I help you figure that out? Yes.  Can I make the decision for you? Absolutely not.

Happy couples can (and should!) go to therapy.

You don’t need to wait until you’re about to break up. It’s certainly scary to ask your partner to go to therapy with you when things are basically OK, since we tend to think of couples therapy as crisis-driven.  However, I would encourage even people who are pretty satisfied in their relationships to seek out therapy, the difference being that it might be helpful for them to come in with clear goals. Those can be things like wanting to have more fun together, or wanting to argue less, or to have more productive conversations about money—anything that’s causing friction or that is difficult to talk about is a good place to start. Therapy provides space for you to feel safe enough to express those things that you usually wouldn't express otherwise.

If you feel that couples counselling/relationship therapy could help you, book your first session using the button below.  If you have questions, please get in touch using the "Contact Alex" button, or direct via email at counsellingpaphos@gmail.com , or by phone during normal working hours on +357 96652791.