We get a lot of calls to our office asking about relationship counselling – What is it? How can it help me? What can it do for my relationships?

Relationship counselling is a form of therapy specifically focused on improving your relationships – at work, at home, with friends, with family, or with your partner.  Unlike family therapy or couples counselling, you engage in relationship counselling on your own. Part of the work is improving communication skills  (including assertiveness) and ability to emotionally connect with the other person, but relationship counselling goes beyond that to include:

  • Better understanding yourself and who you are in relationships
  • Learning about your patterns, games, and dynamics in relationships
  • Better understanding the other person – who is it that you are actually dealing with?
  • Articulating the meaning behind your relationships and better understanding what exactly you are looking for from different relationships
  • Unpacking points of contention in relationships and unmet needs
  • Coming up with creative and intelligent ways to resolve conflict
  • Learning to manage your relationship with the other person in a different way – if what you are currently doing is not working, what else can you try?
  • Overcoming ambivalence about relationships you are uncertain about – should you stay or should you go?

What type of answer do you think you would get if you asked a married coupled how they are going to feel after their kids moved out? Free!?? Maybe not so much… While some couples may feel a sense of freedom after their children have grown up and developed some form of independence from the household, other individuals may feel terrified. After all, for many couples, this will be the first time they have been alone together for close to two decades. In her book, Grown-up Marriage, Judith Viorst talks about this very issue.

As Viorst declares, having more time with each other can be a source of pure delight or utter apprehension. For some couples, it is hard to imagine the lovers they used to be prior to having children. “What will we talk about? How should we act? What on earth are we going to do with all that time on our hands?” For some, the departure of children may force parents to confront problems that exist between the two of them, problems that could be pushed aside when the children were still in the house. Great at a family but not so great at husband and wife anymore? These feelings are completely natural and par for the course of growing old together. Confronting and talking about possible relationship issues that may surface once the kids leave home can make for an easier transition back to that “just the two of us” (in the house) state.

Did you have an affair? Do you blame your marriage for it? Think again. Marriage can be difficult and all marriages have areas of weakness. We have a tendency to confuse a “good marriage” with a “ perfect marriage”. Sometimes difficulties in the marriage can open the door to infidelity. However, affairs don’t just happen because “the marriage was bad”. They happen as a result of a number of variables, some of which are individual variables, such as stress, exhaustion, a need to be validated, low self-esteem, risk taking behavior, etc.…

When we do something that goes against our morals we feel puzzled. There is then a tendency to try and justify this out of character behavior through finding external causes. Why did you have an affair? There are always a number of factors to consider, first look at your individual variables, and then look at your marriage. While marital variables may be there, they are not the entire story. Furthermore, if you plan to stay in your marriage, and if you need your partner to forgive you, it is very important not to sound like you are blaming all your indiscretions on the marriage.

Couples therapy can help you recover your marriage after an affair. The first step is to help your partner accept the new reality and to be empathic to their pain.  The next step is for you to grieve the loss of the relationship. Affairs happen to good people. Bad choices happen to good people. Therapy offers a non-judgmental, non-moralistic space to understand yourself and what it all means. You can then address the weaknesses in your marriage, without linking them to your affair. This can help open a dialogue about the strengths and weaknesses in your relationship. In therapy, you also can focus on understanding the personal variables that made you vulnerable to the affair in the first place.

The book, For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, by Tara Parker-Pope takes an in-depth look at the science and statistics behind marriage.  In chapter 4, the science of sex is laid out and some common beliefs are explored. Familiar to many people is that which has been dubbed “the honeymoon effect.” You know, that crazy, you can’t keep your hands off each other, time at the beginning of a relationship that slowly dwindles to a more a more, should we say, conservative sexual routine. So what does this drop look like in numbers? Statistics show that in general, there is around a 50% drop in sexual activity after the first year of marriage. This decline continues into the second year of marriage but at a slower rate.  Studies demonstrate that after the age of thirty the frequency of sex declines about 20% each decade until the age of sixty-four with another 60% percent drop after the age of sixty-five. Furthermore, survey results show that 16% of married couple hadn’t had sex for a month and 7% hadn’t had sex for a year.

So what happens to that fiery romance that was once felt in the early days of courtship? Much of the decline in sexual activity has to do with the chemistry of the brain which fuels the dopamine system during the romantic, I have butterflies in my stomach, phase of love. As Tara Parker-Pope claims, as time passes in a relationship, the fast and furious firing of the dopamine system “calms to a state of contented companionship and attachment.” There are many additional factors that play a part in the quantity and quality of sex including stress, health issues, hectic schedules, work and family responsibilities, relationship concerns, and even genetics. In many instances, couples simply do not have the energy for sex. The former U.S. secretary Robert Reich actually brought this issue to national attention in 2003 asserting that “American couples were so fatigued by the work-life juggling act that they no longer had energy for sex.” Needless to say, it can be challenging to keep a marital sex life alive and kicking.

Much of the research completed on sexless marriages demonstrates that lack of sex is a strong predictor of unhappy marriage and divorce. However, low-sex and no-sex marriage are not always destined to fail. Some couples are content with little or no sex and thus, sustain few related problems. For most couples, however, sex is a common source of marital conflict with one or both people unhappy with the quality and quantity of sex. But here’s the scoop – there is an abundance of research on marital sex that can support people in the challenges of sustaining an active sex life or in reigniting a sex life that has begun to flicker out over time. Understanding how variables such as stress, health problems, and relationship issues can affect a couple’s sex drive can help individuals in mending a great deal of the conflicts that contribute to lack of intimacy. For some couples, talking about the problem and seeking professional help is key. Truth be told, couples who talk about their sex lives (as well as other aspects of their marriage) tend to have healthier marriage.