The Indian family courts often send couples seeking divorce, for counselling. Even in the case of a mutual consent divorce, the law mandates a period of six months between filing the first motion and the second, in the hope that the couple will reconcile. Couples counselling is often the last resort for couples who’ve already decided to part ways, whether you’re married or not. Families reinforce this futility, too. It’s only when a couple tells their parents that they want to go their separate ways, will they suggest counselling. But seeing a therapist when you’ve already made your decision is like starting an anti-ageing routine when you already have wrinkles. It does not work.
Unfortunately and ironically, a culture that is built on the foundation of marriage, is gravely ill-equipped to deal with conflict in relationships. Parents, friends, siblings, relatives will take it upon themselves to fix a relationship. At worst, they are meddling. At best, they are trying to show concern and support. But this concern and support doesn’t work when it comes to fixing relationship problems, because no one personally known to you – no matter how wise they may be – can be truly objective. This is why it’s important to go for couples counselling when there’s trouble in paradise, but without making these seven common mistakes:
Waiting till complete communication breakdown
During my brief stint as a couples counsellor at a private clinic, I noticed that among two out three couples who would walk into the room, one would be unwilling to speak. On probing, I’d find that in the recent past, the only time they’ve spoken is when they’ve fought.
It’s extremely difficult to work with a couple who can’t communicate without fighting. If you’ve reached this point in your relationship, it means that there are too many unresolved issues which prevent you from feeling anything except anger and frustration with your partner. In couples counselling, this would mean that you need to go back and confront those unresolved issues.
The ideal time to go for therapy is when you start having conflict or disagreements, not when that’s all there is. It’s often too late by then.
Blaming everything on one person
According to Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, blaming one person for everything can be a defence mechanism. Meaning – if you make believe that it’s all your partner’s fault, and you are flawless, it can help you maintain a positive image of yourself, thereby protecting your self-esteem. It makes you feel good about yourself to blame your partner for everything, when in fact, nobody’s perfect.
When you go for couples counselling, you need to drop this attitude and be open to exploring your flaws.
Expecting one person to fix the relationship
Let’s say you’re seeking couples counselling because your partner cheated. The onus of cheating falls entirely on their shoulders. But, both of you have to work together to fix the relationship. If your partner is apologetic, you have to work through the anger and betrayal and forgive them. It’s not easy, but you won’t be able to save the relationship unless the two of you work together. This analogy applies to nearly every conflict in a partnership. No matter who took a misstep, it takes two to tango!
Not being honest with the therapist
The therapist can work with only what you share with them. While yes, a therapist helps you finish the puzzle, but they can only do so if they have all the pieces. Quite often, clients – whether they go for counselling alone, or with their partner – will omit information they don’t think is necessary, or that which they are embarrassed to share. Remember – a therapist’s office is a non-judgemental space, and oversharing is always better than withholding.
If you feel that counselling is not working, you may want to think about what it is that you’re not sharing with your therapist.
Expecting the therapist to tell you what to do
A therapist’s job is to help you figure out the answers, not to tell you what to do. Consider a counsellor as a lantern that lights up a dark alley, rather than a road map. They can unravel the possibilities, help you understand what is going on – what’s holding you back, what your deep desires are, what you fear, so on. But, whether you should pursue your desires or honour your limitations – that choice is yours to make.
Not being patient
While some medicines take only about 30 minutes to one hour to work, many out there usually require a course of three days to a few weeks to start showing relief. Counselling is like the latter. It takes time. Often, more than just a few sessions. So, expecting that counselling is like a a magic wand that will fix your relationship problems in a dat, is a big mistake. Counselling requires time and patience, and most importantly – you have to work for it to work.
Expecting go back to the way things were
Renowned psychologist, Esther Perel talks about how some couples go through a transformation after infidelity wherein they go from ‘I’ and ‘You’, to ‘We’. While couples can recover from plight without going through such a transformation, and continue to have a peaceful relationship, there is something of value in wanting to bounce back stronger and better.
Going for couples counselling with the intention of ‘going back to the way things were’ may not be the best idea. While the past may have been a happy place for you, that doesn’t mean you can’t create a happy future that looks different.
I write. I read. I do yoga. I hula hoop. I love cats and dogs in equal measure. I'd say the same for wine. My zen motto: "Eat kale for the body, cake for the soul." Find me on IG: @prachigangwani87