Is your partner objecting to relationship counselling?
At the first suggestion of counselling, your partner’s first reaction might be “There is nothing wrong with our relationship, why do you think we need it?”
This kind of communication can be commonplace in a relationship.
The first part of this sentence is a statement of fact “There is nothing wrong with our relationship.” When we state facts they can be only one of two things, either true or false.
Notice also that the statement “There is nothing wrong with our relationship” is defensive – the statement is not positively framed. A positively framed statement would be “Our relationship is perfect”. Often when people first meet the love of their life they describe the relationship or partner as being “perfect” or being a “perfect match”. Notice your own thoughts and feelings about the description of a perfect relationship.
Many people find it is easier to make, or hear a statement like “There is nothing wrong with our relationship” than to a statement like “Our relationship is perfect”.
The theory of us having a conscious and sub-conscious explains this. The subconscious mind tells us when there is something wrong with the picture of the world we are seeing and then the conscious mind either accepts this or disregards it.
If you have feelings of discomfort around hearing or saying that your relationship is “perfect”, this is your subconscious mind that is giving you doubts. The subconscious mind is fooled by statements with double negatives such as “there is nothing wrong with our relationship” because it doesn’t have the cognitive ability to understand it.
Let us try to falsify what has been said so far “a relationship where there is nothing wrong is perfect”. Firstly, many will have heard evidence to the contrary, that in all relationships there is conflict. This statement is false, as previously explained new relationships often go without conflict.
What about the statement “Just because there is nothing wrong, doesn’t mean it’s perfect”. This statement is false too. The very definition of perfect “something that is completely free of faults or defects”. So if there is nothing wrong, it is perfect by definition.
Admitting to ourselves that we actually have problems is actually way harder than most people give credit for. When we admit we have problems in our relationship we move from a position of defensiveness to positivity. It is something that we can now deal with.
Let’s get back to the second part of the statement “…why do you think we need it?” This forces defense from the other party – whenever we ask “why” the person being questioned is forced to justify their reasoning. Now they are working hard at just hanging onto the relationship rather than giving to it.
If your partner has asked you this question, how can you answer it?
Chances are that if you are reading this, you believe that your relationship does have problems or can be improved. No matter how gently you communicate that you think the relationship has problems, your partner will only hear “that they are wrong”. At this point your partner may say “Oh so you want a divorce”. This process of escalation is called catastrophization and is a common structure to many relationship conversations. But it doesn’t have to be!
Rather than go down this track where things could derail I am going to suggest you use influencing. To use influence we tell a story of a similar scenario like;
“I know of a couple (or I read reviews online) about the benefits of relationship counselling. They say they couldn’t believe the difference it made to them”.
When we use influencing like this we are providing an answer and giving some information our partner can think about. Notice how much influence is different to pressure because it does not involve any questions. Using a skill such as influence may mean that you do not get a response or the response you want. Influence still allows people the freedom to make their own choices and helps avoid conflict. Think of influence like planting a seed, the seed is an idea that may develop if you give the person a chance to think about it on their own.
What happens if one partner in the relationship grows and the other doesn’t? Is this how people grow apart? People describing themselves as “growing apart”, do this when their relationship stops being about “us” and becomes about “me” and what “I” want to do. Counselling is designed to encourage you to think more about the “us” and help you discover what you can do together as a couple.
Couples who book an appointment for counselling often describe improvements in their relationship before even attending the first session.
Think about 3 new things you can do together as a couple. These don’t need to be expensive, perhaps there is a time where you are both together that you can cook. Remember that just because your partner may be resistant to change to start with, doesn’t mean they don’t want to do something new with you. That is why I asked you to think about 3 new things. Try to break out of the current cycle you are in and achieve the perfect relationship that you so deserve.
Let’s say you ask your partner about cooking a meal together, their first reaction might be, I’m okay cooking it on my own. Trying to get your own way in this situation won’t help, for example say “I’m just trying to improve our relationship by getting us to do more together.”
It is better to put the idea to one side. This doesn’t mean you need to give up on it all together. You might for example try a different approach such as the next time you start cooking yourself and then ask for some help. Or perhaps you decide to try one of the other ideas you thought of.
Complement participation, as nothing stops couples doing things together faster than criticism. Even if you have never seen someone so bad at the activity you have chosen, you can find something positive in it. Compliment on the fact that it is great to be doing something together, that you are enjoying the company. Remember it is also a great time to talk. Easy conversations might be about other couples, or things at work. Upholding the conversation is about asking questions. People feel more engaged and learn more when you ask them questions.
One of reasons couples stop doing new things together is because there isn’t enough encouragement in the relationship. Sometimes a partner can be quick to criticize us and that means we are unlikely to try new things. We all know we aren’t very good at doing something new and that trying something new means we are going to make more mistakes. Encouraging your partner in everyday life will build their confidence and they are then more likely to try something new.
Think about it now before you even begin a new activity, what things can you say that will encourage your partner?
Many will have heard commonly used statements such as; “Good that you gave it a go”, “You should have seen how bad I was, my first time”.
Think of 5 things your partner has done well this week. Talk to your partner – ask them about what they have been doing. Encourage yourself to look at the positive in your partner.
Author: Hamish Webb.
If you are interested in booking a counselling session with Hamish then get in touch through the contact form. He offers both face to face (for Christchurch) and Skype counselling.