Couples usually come to counselling when they are in crisis due to an infidelity, libido disparity, discovery of pornography addiction, or because they are stuck in a pattern of repeated arguments that don't seem to resolve their issues. Sometimes couples seek counselling because one of them wants to leave the relationship and is seeking guidance about whether or not the relationship can be saved. Couple's therapy provides a holding space for the couple to discuss difficult issues that may escalate into fighting when they try to problem-solve at home. It aims to provide a safe, accepting place for both individuals.
My approach is to remove blame and negativity from the interaction by helping each partner understand the role they play in the relationship, and the repeated interaction patterns. Looking at family of origin is always helpful in understanding the unspoken or unconscious beliefs and values each person brings to the relationship, which may be a source of conflict. Where there has been abuse or violence in the family of origin I am sensitive to pacing the discussion to allow the client to remain in charge of what is discussed.
Usually it takes about 3 sessions to get a clear sense of the couple and their goals. Change usually occurs after about 6 sessions, and significant, long-lasting change is possible if couples stay in therapy for a longer period.
Early childhood attachment to the primary caregiver usually plays out in a committed relationship. Often couples come to therapy during the first year after moving in together, when the childhood attachment issues are triggered, and inexplicable fighting and/or withdrawal occur. Often people are missing and mourning for the initial 'honeymoon' phase of the relationship, and want to be able to recapture the early excitement and passion. A deeper, more committed love, based on compatibility and shared goals, needs to be established. Many people will leave the relationship at this point rather than work through the disappointments and struggles required to establish a strong foundation for a long-term relationship.
Current research shows that about 75% of all marriages experience an infidelity at some point. In the past more men than women reported being unfaithful, but recent studies show that there is now little gender difference.
There are a number of different types of affairs, such as intimacy avoidance, 'exit' affairs, and sex addiction. Couples are most vulnerable at different developmental points in their relationship. The goal of therapy is to; understand the reason for the affair and its impact on the relationship, to redevelop trust between the partners, and to facilitate forgiveness so that the couple can move forward. Many couples recover from an infidelity.
Differences in libido
Usually it will be the woman who has lower libido than the man, but this is not always the case. It is rare for couples to have well-matched libidos, so it is something most people have to accommodate and adjust to over time. The couple needs to develop the frequency of sexual contact and intimate relating that works for them, without too much conflict or resentment. Stereotypes about women wanting more intimacy than men can be generalised, but for most people, fear of and longing for intimacy are issues that need to be worked through together. Couple's therapy provides a safe place to do so.
Pornography or sex addiction
Most clients presenting with this issue are men. They usually come for counselling because they have been discovered and want to save their relationship. This will be treated in a similar way to an affair, but with greater focus on helping the person understand the role of the addiction in his/her life, and developing a plan for management, which usually involves cooperation from the partner. The partner has the same reaction as a person who has been cheated on, even if there has been no actual sexual contact. Therefore trust and intimacy issues are the focus of the treatment for the couple.