Couples will enter the counselling room at all stages of their relationship. Recently, Colleen sat down with a couple that have been married for 29 years. After journeying with Mark and Kate for some time, this was their twelfth and final session. They took the opportunity to reflect on their relationship, and how therapy has helped them.
“Our son pushed us to be here,” shares Mark, about why they began couples counselling, “I was ready to say that our relationship was done, but he insisted we try therapy.” Talking about what sanctioned change for them, Kate opens up, “Having someone [like Colleen] who had no idea of who we were or what we were about. Someone who just listened neutrally.”
Mark also mentions what they brought to the therapist-client relationship that allowed them to grow. “The strength of the will, determination to make it work, and the love that did exist in the relationship to want it to work.”
Bringing these two elements together allowed them to find Colleen, and ultimately begin the journey to growth and healing in their marriage relationship. “[Colleen was] the right therapist to steer us in the right direction,” shares Kate.
Early on, Kate and Mark found their old techniques of dealing with conflict only added to their troubles. “I talked to family members, however they were too emotionally involved so I stopped,” explains Kate. “It wasn’t helpful.”
“We were both very arrogant and stubborn about the situation,” says Mark. “Colleen helped us find the tools to reach a good point in understanding and communicating with each other.”
Holding regular sessions where the couple could openly talk about their feelings, as well as the exploration of their genograms (family history) and personality traits, enabled them to find the skills they needed to build a healthy and happy relationship. “[Colleen used] the tools of listening, respect and communicating,” says Mark. “Our defensiveness was like walls of guilt and competition. Colleen helped us see that we were creators of our own walls.”
“The emphasis of the sessions was ‘how do we move forward?’ Colleen didn’t allow us to brood, so we talked about the issues in terms of the process,” explains Kate. “We both really wanted our relationship to work.”
Finding a couples’ counsellor who both parties trust and respect is invaluable, and this was the case as Mark and Kate met with Colleen. “Colleen was fair,” shares Kate. “She contained our negative emotions and ticked us off in a nice, calm way. It got through and made a difference to our listening. After each session, we would go into our own space to process information.”
Learning how to maintain their privacy and work out conflict with each other was also imperative in their success. “We kept it between ourselves. It is our journey, a private journey. Rather than talking to others outside the session, we were respectful of each other,” says Kate. “If we left feeling heightened emotions like anger, we didn’t take it out of the room together, we went separate ways to process alone. We knew that the negative emotions had to come out, that it was part of the process.”
“Our history of past hurts, misunderstandings and disappointments were still defining our relationship in a negative way. By visiting it briefly, we were able to acknowledge it and let go of it. It no longer had to have power over us.”
Knowing that Colleen was available to affirm and validate how she was feeling also settled Kate. “Early in the process, when I felt like I had lost control, I was able to ring Colleen, who validated how I felt and that it was okay.”
Having another person to safely share your couple journey with enables you to move from a state of survival to a relationship that thrives, and this is what made all the difference for the couple. “I am more understanding and accepting of my faults. I give the good energy and a good vibe now,” shares Mark. For Kate, the fact she is more energised changes everything, “I am not exhausted anymore.”
After finishing their twelfth session with Colleen, Mark and Kate are in a position to more effectively communicate, listen to and understand each other. “We got lost, but we found ourselves,” says Mark. “When you are listening with respect and understanding, everything just flows…we went from terminal to serenity.”
Used with permission of interviewees. Names changes to protect privacy.
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