Our need for ‘space’
There are many reasons why clients might decide that couples counselling might be of benefit. We can’t always resolve difficulties on our own. It can be hard to talk, hard to find the right words, hard to risk bringing up difficult subjects.
Sometimes, there are things we want to say, but we worry that if we try to talk about them on our own it will lead to arguments or bad feeling.
It can be that there are things we’re unhappy about but we can’t see our way through to finding solutions without help.
It may be that we just don’t know how to begin to express our feelings, or that we don’t feel safe to risk being vulnerable.
Sometimes, there’s a specific crisis that’s happened, and it feels like it’s caused serious damage to the relationship. We want to find out if that damage can be repaired, and if we can try to find a way forward.
Perhaps family dynamics are making things difficult, or creating a rift.
Life changes can also put great strain on a relationship, and it can be difficult to negotiate through the different choices those changes present us with.
Occasionally, something happens which triggers old pain or unresolved issues for one partner, and these are getting acted out or causing difficulties between both partners.
We can offer you a safe space to talk without pressure, and we can help to make that space as comfortable as possible by actively participating in the conversation with you, offering insights, noticing what seems to be going on and offering feedback on that.
We can offer new skills and ways of talking which make it easier to discuss things in ways that don’t feel blaming or critical.
We won’t take sides, and we won’t tell you what to do, but we will highlight options and help you to think about possibilities that may not have occurred to you.
We may observe patterns of behaviour or thinking or communication that are unhelpful, or which have their roots in old experiences or expectations we’ve absorbed without really questioning them, and we’ll help you to explore those and think about them, and consider more helpful ways.
Sometimes, a couple might come to see us because they have decided to separate and want to be helped to go through that process as kindly, and with as little damage, as possible – to themselves, but also sometimes to children or the wider family.
Whatever the problem, I will work with you to try to find a resolution and help you to heal.
(Paul) ‘I think that if Helen hadn’t given me an ultimatum that it was couples counselling or we were finished, and if I hadn’t heard the desperation in her voice that made me finally listen, we wouldn’t be together now.
We’d tried couples counselling a year or so ago, with an organisation specialising in couples work, but we’d come away disappointed. It didn’t work for us for lots of reasons, but the main reason was that it became clear that we needed ‘deeper’ help somehow to help me to discover why I was behaving so jealously, and why I felt so frightened and insecure. The counsellor seemed to want to give us homework that was designed to help me behave differently, but what it didn’t do was change the feelings way down inside me that meant that Helen couldn’t help knowing what was going on inside me no matter how differently I tried to behave, or how much she tried to change her responses to what she knew I was feeling.
I will be forever grateful that a friend gave me Janny’s number. We could feel the difference as soon as we started talking together. She picked up everything that was going on. I mean, the subtle things, the things that could seem so little you might miss them, but which are really the big things because they show exactly what’s going on.
We didn’t only talk about now, the way we’d been led to do before. Janny encouraged us to dig much more deeply than that. We talked about our experiences growing up, and how these had influenced how we might relate to a partner, our fears and how we might act those out, who we represented for each other, how that might be influencing the ways we tried to talk about things or try to resolve them.
It was both fascinating and a shock to gradually discover just how much of our past experiences we had brought into our relationship. I came to understand, for instance, that the reason Helen would leave the room and go silent if I became angry was because her Dad had a big temper and would lose control if he got angry. Any sign that I was getting angry triggered those old memories, and made Helen want to get away.
Once Helen had been helped to explain that, I could see that my own memories of how my Mum used to not speak to me if I had done something that upset her, and how much that had frightened me because it felt as if she didn’t love me anymore, meant that I felt I had to pursue Helen and try to make her speak to me because it felt like her shutting down meant she didn’t love me.
Looking back now, all that sounds a bit silly. But in the heat of it, it all felt very real for us both, and it was frightening how intense the feelings were.
Once we both started to understand those dynamics – and more importantly, where they came from in the first place – we started to feel so much more positive and hopeful. Janny helped us through some pretty difficult discussions, and supported us in finding ways of communicating that took those old ‘buttons (her word) into account. I can’t tell you how freeing that became. We found a new level of respect and carefulness towards each other simply from being helped to appreciate just how complicated the different levels that we relate on actually are.
And the really great thing was that Janny helped us to do all that in a completely non-judgemental way. There was no blame, now or for the past, but just a really empathic understanding of why we do the things we do.
That was the key, really. Understanding why we do the things we do, with kindness and respect. Janny showed us how to let go of all the ‘you shoulds’ and replace them with ‘How can we…?’ or ‘What would be helpful…?’ The experience of being listened to so intently and deeply, and of having such a positive role model in Janny showing us so much more effective ways to be supportive of each other rather than blaming each other, has been truly transformative.’