Couples & Family Therapy
Healthy and fulfilling relationships are the basis for a happy life. Most of us consider our relationships with our partners, children, families, and colleagues as integral to our sense of fulfilment and satisfaction in life. While relationships can foster feelings of satisfaction and happiness, they can also result in anger, frustration, hurt and disappointment. Relationships can be the source of pain as well as happiness. Problems can occur at any stage in a relationship and may result from poor communication, difficulties with sexual intimacy, financial pressures or conflict over household tasks and responsibilities, or through major life transitions, including career changes, becoming a parent, conflict within extended family, or the loss of a loved one. When stress, frustration, anger, or other forms of conflict have affected your relationships, couples and family therapy can be useful for resolving differences and producing new, healthier ways of relating.
By nature, humans are social beings with a need to maintain connections with one another. Our most important relationships are the ones we share with our partners and family.
Attending therapy as a couple or family, you will be guided to explore beliefs, values, and expectations that may underlie your relationship difficulties. Sessions are focused on improving communication, reducing conflict, and enhancing connections between family members or partners. This is achieved by helping participants to understand each other’s experiences and points of view, appreciate each other’s needs, build on strengths, and make meaningful changes in their relationships. Family and couples therapy is not about changing an individual. It is about working on the relationship between all individuals and the influence of these interactions on behaviour. Change can happen from the new understanding generated during therapy and by experimenting with different ways of relating with one another at home.
Family and couples therapy can be helpful for addressing:
- Family stress or conflict
- Parenting concerns
- Conflicted parent-child relationships
- Couples conflict
- Communication problems
Principles of Couples Therapy
There are five key principles of effective couples therapy designed to help partners overcome obstacles in their relationship. Understanding these principles will help you to decide whether you might benefit from this type of therapy:
- Changing views of the relationship. Couples are guided to look at their relationship in a more objective and helpful way. They stop the “blame game” and begin to consider disagreements and conflict as a process involving both partners. To facilitate this, Psychologists begin the process of couples therapy by collecting information about the relationship, how the couple interact with one another, and the concerns of both partners. The Psychologist then helps the couple to identify what factors may be contributing to conflict or challenges they are facing.
- Changing unhelpful behaviour. Once it is acknowledged that the behaviour of both partners affects the relationship, couples therapy focuses on changing the ways partners behave towards one another. This includes minimising actions that might be causing physical, psychological, or economic harm. Couples are also presented with strategies for preventing the escalation of arguments and managing external pressures in more helpful and productive ways.
- Reducing emotional avoidance. When a couple decides to start therapy, there are often a lot of unexpressed emotions and anxieties regarding the relationship. Couples that avoid expressing their feelings are likely to become emotionally distant and are at greater risk of growing apart. In contrast, when partners are open with one another about how they feel, the relationship benefits from emotional intimacy. During couples therapy, partners are encouraged to share their emotional experiences in ways that draw them closer together.
- Enhancing communication. Being able to communicate with one another is key to building a healthy relationship. During the course of couples therapy, partners develop an understanding of different communication styles and how these can impact their relationship. Particular focus is given to identifying unhelpful ways of communicating, such as criticism and defensiveness, and replacing these with healthier, more productive alternatives. Partners are also shown ways of listening to one another in a manner that conveys empathy and makes the other person feel heard and understood.
- Building on strengths. Because couples therapy tends to focus on challenges and obstacles, it can be easy to lose sight of areas in which the relationship functions well and thrives. By acknowledging these strengths, partners can derive more enjoyment and satisfaction from their relationship. In order to recognise and build on existing strengths, couples are encouraged to prioritise their relationship and engage regularly activities that are enjoyed by both partners.