Our intimate partnerships have a major and profound impact on us. They influence our emotional lives, the expression of our sexual desires, our social lives, the wellbeing of any children and our finances.
Attending to the strengths and vulnerabilities in our intimate partnerships is a very worthwhile investment. There is a strong evidence base for couple therapy. Significant mental health problems can be helped by a better partnership. An unhelpful partnership can lead to recurrent mental ill-health.
Some people find that the safe, non judgmental experience of couple therapy is profoundly life-changing and enriching. They learn so much from understanding how each contributes to the creation and maintenance of their difficulties, why they have been relating in particular ways, how the patterns repeat, and they benefit from paying attention to each other. Old hurts and disappointments become less powerful and the couple can feel freer to change. It becomes possible for each to achieve deeper emotional growth.
Unfortunately, often couples delay seeking help with unhappy partnerships, and this is understandable. It can be daunting to consider having psychotherapy or counselling and even more daunting to share this with a partner, especially a partner who seems to cause you distress. Couples can become preoccupied with blame and disappointment, their daily relating can feel so painful that it feels impossible to hope for change. They may fear sharing this with an outsider, who they may assume will be judgmental. However, if seeking help is delayed, unhelpful patterns become entrenched and hurtful experiences mount up, making it harder to recover.
Couple psychotherapy may be about helping you to separate, helping you both to mourn the loss of the partnership, and helping you to understand how this came about and how to make the separation as constructive as possible. If you are seeking a comprehensive, non judgmental, sane but sobering guide to being good parents whilst becoming separated parents, try Family Breakdown by Penelope Leach published by Unbound.
Sometimes we seek individual therapy rather than confront the difficulties at home. This can help clarify your thoughts but it may simply divert your emotional energies from the main source of distress and delay or prevent addressing your partnership.
It is worth seeking a therapist who has had specialist training in couple psychotherapy because it is not the same as ‘individual therapy x 2″.
Couples can find brief counselling helpful for instance through Relate: www.relate.org.uk. An expert psycho-sexual therapist can help with sexual problems, for further information see www.basrt.org.uk. For more information about couple psychotherapy and counselling look at the website of Tavistock Relationships http://www.tavistockrelationships.org.uk. Tavistock Relationships offers a referral service for the UK, although most of their approved contacts are in Greater London.
Usually a couple sees one therapist, but sometimes it is helpful for a couple to see a couple of therapists working together, although this can be a scarce and expensive resource.