Continuing our series on marriage, Charles and Jane Perryman explore the process of counselling
In the last article we wrote, we explored what happens when couples get into arguments. We saw how they frequently shifted into a self-preservation mode rather than seeking to preserve the close connection between them as a couple. We also said that most couples find ways of repairing the damage to the relationship and reconciling. There are, however, some couples who get stuck in this negative cycle and never seem to repair the damage. If this goes on for a long time the atmosphere in the marriage becomes very hostile and painful.
Most of the couples who come for counselling with Marriage Care have reached this stage. We want to describe, in outline, how the counsellor tries to help couples in these situations. It is necessary, first, to recognise that it takes great courage to even get to counselling. The couple has to recognise and accept that they have a problem and that they need external help to try and resolve it. They then have to make contact with Marriage Care, get an appointment and then summon up the nerve to attend. The fact that they have managed to get to the counsellor is a good sign that they want to make the marriage work again.
The first thing the counsellor has to do is to get to know the couple and to gain their trust. Counsellors do this by showing respect for the clients, by valuing what the clients are able to share, by being non-judgemental and by listening carefully to the clients and showing that they have understood.
When couples are stuck in an endless cycle of rows and arguments they usually end up blaming the other. In reality they are both caught up in a cycle. One partner is usually desperately trying to reconnect with the other but doing it in a very unhelpful way. The other gets overwhelmed and backs away. In most cases it is the wife who pursues and the husband withdraws. But the husband withdraws because the wife pursues because the husband withdraws because the wife pursues and so on and so on. The first task is to help the couple to see that they are caught up in this cycle and then to see that it is the cycle that is the enemy not the other person. They then start to find ways of breaking out of the cycle. Once they have done that the second part of the work can begin.
Each of the partners behave as they do because that is the way they have learned, when growing up and through other experiences, to keep themselves emotionally safe. When there is a difficult issue around alarm bells ring and their safety strategy kicks in. The effect of this is that both partners end up feeling lonely. All of that is kept hidden from their partner. The task of the counsellor is slowly to help each partner face their loneliness and ask their partner for what they need. Because this has all been kept hidden it often comes as a surprise to the other and often it is hard for them really to believe it all.
Our experience in Marriage Care is that when couples come and both really want to repair their marriage they can be helped to find way back to a safe and loving connection, even when the conflict between them has been very deep and long lasting.
The process of reconnecting takes time. The need is growing. In the Sheffield centre of Marriage Care we have had a waiting list for a long time and we want to recruit counsellors to work with couples. We are seeking people who have a counselling qualification and who currently work one to one. We can offer training to work with couples and then ask for a commitment to work with us for several years offering at least two sessions per week. If you think that you could do this work and have the necessary qualification, please get in contact with us by phone: 0114 237 3301 or by email: emailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.