The stakes in couples therapy are so high...I had terrible couples therapy. Now I am the therapist
Entrusting some element your most prized relationship to a stranger is a massive deal, my own rubbish experience of couples therapy meant I decided if I ever worked with couples I would offer something different and that drives me still. If I see a couple that love each other or can evoke clearly the memory of when they did love each other deeply (even though they may feel hopeless at this point in time), I have the chink of light I need to work with.
Sometimes there are patterns of conflict that despite best endeavours continue to dominate the relationship. At other times the issue or one of the issues is sexual difficulty and the erosion this causes to a relationship. It does not matter if it is men or women, if one desires and the other does not, guilt, shame, anger, sadness, despondency and impasse can often feature. Our sexual lives and relationships are nuanced and complex and they can become incredibly weighted. Weighty, struggles don't do a great deal for erotic aliveness and it's also the most vulnerable possible area. No-one really teaches us about sex it's potential and possibility for pleasure. Instead we are taught reproduction initially at school how to avoid it at all costs! Latterly in our 20's and 30's and maybe 40's how to get pregnant. But the erotic, often all we know is what our friends say about frequency or partners and performance, what we read, hear, watch. How many peoples preferred choice with a new partner is to be slammed up against the kitchen counters and taken roughly, we never see the reality of tights, or socks coming off, people worrying about their bodies being judged. We rarely and only in comedy see a kid or flatmate appear or the Ocado/Sainsbury/Tesco /Amazon/Conservative canvasser buzzing the door mid sex. Sex is rarely shown in it's real state and we so need to be a bit more real about sex. We also need to bring some fun to it, some pragmatism, some lightness because sex can be raw and passionate and alive or it can be a much needed 5 minute release snatched before sleep. It can be a welcome home, or a reminder in a couple of "us" rather than feeling like two individuals working together functionally.
Sometimes the love may have become more of a friendship, and sex has been relegated to the bottom of a busy list of work, chores and commitments. There may need to be help reinvigorating it, not because you aren't prepared to do the graft but because it just hasn't worked and you need a bit of help. A therapist doesn't do the work for you, rather it's our job to facilitate you talking openly and safely to each other, encourage, illuminate, push, challenge. I won't change your relationship, the process can, what is created can. It does not work every time, a client just back from a previously inconceivable sun and sex holiday with her beloved partner and full of zingyness recently thanked me for the change. Now back home some of this has ebbed, so the job is to look at how this isn't lost by a change of geography. What made it possible, how can it continue when we get back to home, work and stress. This couple have a great, loving, kind, respectful relationship outside of the bedroom but could not make it work inside it, for a while it threatened their future, but they light up a room. Often bad sexual experiences get in the way, even sometimes sexual abuse and assault, partners and the person experiencing this might not know what to do or how to help, and create safety, which is entirely understandable. There is no silver bullet in this or any other therapeutic work, the alchemy is in the relationship and it takes the time it takes. But I reassure my clients that I will not be holding onto them when they no longer need me, it's lovely seeing change, and telling people they don't need me anymore.
Sometimes couples come to see if they really have reached the end of the line. They might want to look at the relationship in a place of safety, wanting or needing to find a way to move beyond, conflict, hurt, resentment, (all fundamental and understandable reflections of fear) to a place where they can let each other go with kindness and continue to be decent to one another.
As a therapist, as a human, in this work and in life I am absolutely driven by a desire to be kind. At times in couples work it's very easy to take swipes and blame because alongside pain and fear, there's often resentment Decency and respect are absolutely critical to the way I work both in and outside of the room. The wound of a love lost that continues to be toxic even after separation, especially if there are children involved is like a volcano within those children's lives. It's excruciating for kids to live perpetually having to navigate the threat of parents at war and it takes something from them. Kids principle concern in a separation is that their Mum and Dad are both ok and ideally they can be warm and kind to each other if they are forced to share a space, so that the kids safety and peace albeit forever altered, can be assured. Every couple I work with who have kids, the kids are a huge part of my focus too, any positive change will not only benefit the adults but the kids too.