Three Reasons Couples Counselling Isn’t Working
You finally did it. You both got on the same page, filled out the contact form, chatted with a counsellor and met up for for a first relationship therapy session. No, not just one. Three sessions.
Strangely however, you aren’t noticing results. Quite the opposite actually: You are leaving the sessions more fired up than ever. You find yourself both quicker to arguments and bickering. “You’re not even putting in the effort to show up on time. How much does this matter to you? How much do I matter to you?”
On top of this, this is not a cheap service! Does couples counselling even work?!
Here are three common reasons you might not have experienced the home runs you expected:
1. You Haven’t Been Taught How Couples Counselling Works
Couples and marriage counselling is not about being right. Perhaps a greater surprise, the style that our team uses isn’t even based on training “better communication” as many clients think it will be.
Instead, it is about observing and changing negative cycles. What this means is that your counsellor is going to spend time with you to watch the nature of the patterns and loops you get stuck in. To understand specifically what is being triggered between the two of you.
This takes many sessions, during which your counsellor is patiently reflecting back to you observations that, “Jamie doesn’t seem to want to be angry, it’s just that when he comes home and you haven’t done the dishes it triggers the fear that, ‘I am all alone in this relationship and my person doesn’t care about me, just like when I was a kid and my mom would just pass out on the couch.’”
If you expect that you will be taught communication skills and how to argue better, you will feel disappointed. In reality, the therapy is much deeper in that you will learn why argument cuts so deep, how to de-escalate triggers, and how to shift your negative and automatic loops to positive and supportive ones.
2. You Are Expecting Quick Results
Not only have your patterns as a couple taken anywhere from months to years to be programmed, they are matching your programming as humans which have been learned over a whole lifetime.
We are striving to change deep patterns of the nervous system through trauma-informed counselling. We are editing responses of anxiety, depression and PTSD. This cannot possibly be done in a few hour long sessions.
Couples who are serious about change make a commitment to come weekly or every couple weeks for months to years on end. There is no valuable skill that didn’t take time and effort to master and learning to soothe each other’s nervous systems is no exception.
Prepare to dip into the shadows of old triggers before popping back up with relief and love. “Nothing that feels bad is ever the last step,” said Diana Fosha and it applies here. Don’t quit just as you’ve hit the hard part as it is always darkest before the dawn.
3. Your Therapist Is Skimming the Surface
Until the late 90s, relationship counselling was a lot more logical and skills based. We thought we could control our patterns between each other just by deciding to meet each others needs and using discipline and willpower.
We know now that because we are looking at each other’s entire family histories as triggered in moments of distress, the answer involves learning to be kind and patient with each other’s inner child. To do this, someone guiding effective couples counselling needs to understand trauma, negative and positive cycles of exchange, a passion for creating content, and have the courage to interrupt arguments to offer new ways of relating.
Be on the lookout for therapists who seem to just be offering common sense solutions such as, “Communication is important,” “Speak in I-statements,” and “Share your needs with each other.” Yes, these are important building blocks, but all of these skills go out the window once one or both partner are triggered. The solution needs to involve grounding each other during periods of high distress, otherwise nothing practically useful has been learned. You already know how to be nice to each other when the skies are sunny. This is about learning what to do during a rainstorm!
Couples therapy that has a theory of trauma, understands triggering and cycles of distress and soothing, and that encourages patience and playfulness is often very effective. Getting these benefits takes commitment, realistic expectations and working with a therapist that knows their stuff.
The reward of a relationship that calms the stress of the world and makes you resilient to tragedy is well worth fighting for. You deserve better than a relationship that stresses you out and if you set your intention towards a supportive and loving one, it is achievable.
If you would like to work with one of our couples counsellors, please feel free to sign up for a free chat with any of our team members.
Carson is the co-founder and director of Thrive. He is a trauma-informed counsellor whose more recent passions are psychedelic medicine and assisting in the process of spiritual awakening.