Relationship Counselling & Couples Therapy

Professional Support for Couples in 1140 Vienna

Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. By this I mean a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company.
John Gottman

Relationship Counselling, Couples Therapy, Marriage Guidance – What use is it all?

The beginning of a relationship is most often characterised by the presence of feelings such as love, passion, affection and respect. Both partners typically have the feeling that they are accepted as a whole with all their rough edges and differences as well strengths and good points. It is difficult to believe that this phase will ever come to an end and many couples in love are firmly convinced that these feelings will last a lifetime. With time though most partners begin to develop a new perspective of one another. They discover aspects of one another which they find more difficult to handle or even capable of causing hurt and pain. This insight can be unsettling. The relationship which once represented an impregnable safe haven now proves to be vulnerable to stress and pressure and at times itself a source of conflict and difficulty.

Practice room for couples counselling, couples therapy and marriage guidanceA relationship can be placed under strain by disruptive factors which may be internal or external to the relationship. Dissatisfaction with one’s own person, stress in the workplace, financial difficulties, tension from and between other family members etc. can all place a burden on the relationship. Similarly life transitions and times of great change such as the birth of children, retirement, promotion, marriage, moving country, death and loss etc. bring with them additional stress and challenges for a couple and potentially conflict and tension within the relationship if the couple lacks the resources to handle them.

A good relationship is not something that happens automatically. It is a challenging project which requires the attention of both partners. It must be nurtured. Maintaining a happy and satisfying relationship requires hard work. Some couples realise this and despite their best efforts still find themselves having difficulties. Whether arguments are triggered by known “hot topics” or small everyday disagreements repeated heated disputes lead to frustration and damage the relationship. One or both partners begin to feel hurt and misunderstood and the relationship shows signs of the strain. Relationship counselling, couples therapy and marriage guidance can help the couple to get the relationship back on track and it can help couples to find out whether reconciliation and acceptance are even possible and if the relationship can still have a good future.

Topics for Relationship Counselling and Couples Therapy

The topics which couples come to me with are diverse. Partners can also differ substantially in their motivation or their evaluation of the situation. It is not even uncommon that the couple cannot agree if there is a problem or not. Whatever the case may be most couples can agree on using the counselling/therapy setting to increase their relationship satisfaction and quality of life.

The most common problems which couples come to me with are:

Conflict and tension in the relationship
The question of whether the relationship can offer a (good) future for both partners
Disagreements arising from differing values and life concepts such as cultural differences, loyalty, infidelity, jealousy, the (over-)importance of work and career, family planning and parenting styles etc.
Divorce and separation. Here counselling and therapy can help couples to separate from one another on a good basis as well as to minimise the effect on any children are involved.
Sexual problems.
Violence, aggression and abuse
Depression, alcohol and substance abuse of one or both partners which is having a negative impact on the relationship.
The need for support during a time of crisis, e.g. after loss, in the event of death in the family, after experiencing a traumatic event.
The need for support during a time of life transition e.g. when a child is born, when a couple goes into retirement, during a move abroad etc.
The list above applies to both heterosexual and homosexual couples. I work with couples of all sexual orientations.

What Happens During a Relationship Counselling / Couples Therapy Session?

During the initial consultation I ask the couple what their requirements, expectations and hopes are for the counselling/therapy process. Even if one of the partners is only reluctantly taking part I assume that he/she still wants or expects something during the course of our conversations even if that might be to be left in peace and for the whole process to come to a (satisfactory) end as soon as possible!

Paartherapeut Kevin Hall arbeitet mit einem PaarI also ask the couple what their expectations are of one another and how they would like the relationship to change. This involves developing common goals, e.g. learning to treat one another respectfully and affectionately again. It could also be at this point that one or both partners expresses the desire to separate from the other. In this case a common goal might be salvaging a friendship or maintaining a good parental cooperation where there are children involved.

Both partners must also both have enough space to speak about their worries, concerns, difficulties and hurt and I aim to offer both a safe space within which they can open up and express their feelings. It is important for me to gain a good understanding of the couple’s problems including the background (family, biography, work situation etc.) against which these problems are taking place. This enables me to optimize my assistance accordingly.

The form of the subsequent process and the approach taken to follow-up sessions depends on the couple, their topics and goals. I work with a mixture of techniques that include questions to structure conversations and encourage the development of new perspectives, imagination and visualization exercises, hypnosis and relaxation techniques and psychoeducation. Throughout the process I place value on helping the couple to develop a healthy style of communication with one another. The conduct within the relationship and the quality of the interaction with one another has an immediate effect on the quality of the relationship. High mutual expectations, indifference and disrespect have a damaging effect on relationships and undermine trust, friendship and love.

My fundamental position throughout the process is one of impartiality. It is my experience that constructive and cooperative processes are most likely to occur in the absence of blame and reproach. As an alternative I suggest to couples that the same energy used against each other be redirected for more productive purposes and their attention towards the resources that exist within the relationship. These resources might be strengths, talents or positive personality traits of one or both partners, hopes and shared visions or external material, financial and social support structures available to the couple.

Relationship Counselling and Couples Therapy with a Male/Female Counselling Team

Couples often find it useful to have not just a male but also a female counsellor to give them an impartial external feedback on their situation. For this reason I also offer counselling and therapy to couples in a setting in which I work jointly with MMag. Katharina Henz.

How can I convince my partner to take part in relationship counselling / couples therapy?

A couple arguing. Can relationship counselling help?

Picture by courtneyk, licenced from iStock

Relationship counselling and couples therapy operates under the assumption that both partners want to change something, however small that change might be. It is however often the case that one partner is feeling the strain of the tension in the relationship more than the other. It may even be that one partner does not to want to face the fact that there is a problem at all. It is also very common for one partner to want to try couples therapy/counselling out and for the other to be very sceptical or even absolutely opposed to the idea.

From experience it tends to be a notoriously difficult thing to do to try and change a person against their will and when a partner does not want to take part in relationship counselling/therapy then options are limited. One option is to tell your partner in very clear terms that you are unhappy and do not want to live in this manner any longer. Suggesting or even insisting that your partner come to a couples counselling session with you may be more effective if your partner understands the gravity of the situation.

It may be however that even knowing how serious the situation is, your partner is still reluctant. It is worth remembering that sometimes feelings of shame or anxiety about being confronted with accusations and reproaches are a cause of reluctance to participate relationship counselling. Whatever the case it may be worth coming to counselling on your own initially in order to get some help with evaluating the situation and your options. Some people also find that it is still worth considering working on themselves their even if their partner is not yet ready for change. Many clients report that when they change their attitudes and behaviours their partners also start to change in response.

Next Steps