My partner and I went to relationship counselling for about eight months last year. We did it for a whole bunch of reasons, all of which could essentially be summed up as ‘We couldn’t remember how to be nice to each other’. I was so wrapped up in my own self-pitying anxiety that I couldn’t understand why he didn’t pity me too. He was so convinced that my sadness was a weapon with which to hurt him that he didn’t pay attention to the reasons I was sad.
Then we went to relationship counselling, and now I’m an evangelist. Here are some of the reasons (there are more) why I think it worked.
One, it gave us a set time and place each week to talk to and about each other. If you need a nudge to actually do what you say you’re going to do (as we both definitely did), then having that appointment each week is a great way to make sure you do it.
Two, counsellors ask questions you’d never have thought to ask yourself. When we sat down with a counsellor, one of the first things she asked us was ‘What were the primary romantic relationships you saw when you were growing up?’ We each talked through our family history – parents, step-parents, grandparents – and the ways in which each of these couples modelled love. Discussing it in this way, led by a counsellor probing with all the right questions, gave each of us a much deeper understanding of where the other one was coming from.
Three, relationship counselling teaches you how to argue. All relationships will include conflict at some point; it’s how you navigate that conflict that really matters. Relationship counselling gave us the skills we needed to talk about things effectively, in a way that is kind to each other and doesn’t dismiss what the other one says.
Four, relationship counselling gives you time to breathe. This is the most important point, and it’s the one my other half wanted me to hammer home in this article. He wants other people to get the same feeling he did: that big wave of relief when you accept you’ve got a problem, and you take the first step towards fixing it. It was no longer ‘me versus him’, but ‘us versus the problem’, and just the fact that both of us admitted there was a problem made a significant and valuable difference.
Five, you get to become an expert on ‘you’. If the person you love really is a significant love of your life, you probably think about them a lot: in good ways and bad ways. When those conversations and thoughts are all in your head, it can be tricky to get perspective because we have no one to bounce those thoughts off, and we’re also adding our own layers of interpretation to every action they take. Relationship counselling gives you the opportunity to examine these assumptions – led by someone who can call you out when they spot you doing it – and become better acquainted with what your partner actually thinks.
Relationship counselling might not help in exactly the way you expect, but it will buy you the time and the headspace to really explore what’s happening with your relationship. It can teach you new skills for listening to and understanding your partner – and these skills aren’t just useful inside romantic relationships; they can help you outside those relationships too.
When we first walked into the counselling room, we knew we still loved each other, but in a powerful but abstract way. Relationship counselling reminded us that ‘love’ is a verb, and we have to practise it every day.
Girl on the Net is a blogger and author. She’s been blogging about sex, dating, love and relationships since 2011 at www.girlonthenet.com. She has been passionate about encouraging people to seek support with their relationship difficulties ever since visiting Relate with her partner. Even relationship bloggers need a little help sometimes!
With many thanks to Relate for putting us in touch. (Editor.)