Repairing the relationship

Overcoming Marriage Problems 

Attachment theory has shown that children only feel secure about themselves and others if they feel loved by their parents, mainly the mother. This does not stop when we become adults, but we tend to transfer the need to be loved from our parents to our partner. When we feel loved the relationship is like a safe haven from which we launch into the world. We also feel confident and good about ourselves.

However, if this love is threatened through relationship difficulties, we typically fight to get this love back. Sometimes we fight constructively to overcome relationship problems, such as talking, or doing new things together. But sometimes we do things that feel right at the time, but are destructive to a relationship, such as attacking or withdrawing from our partner, being sarcastic or defensive etc. Particularly when we feel hurt by our partner we tend to feel justified doings such things, because they make us feel better temporarily, but they erode the relationship long term.

In relationship counselling I endeavour to establish an atmosphere of safety so that each partner can express their needs (including the need to be loved) and encourage both partners to really listen and understand each other. I help each partner to see that behind the other partner’s seemingly dysfunctional behaviour there is a need to be loved and a vulnerability that we all share. the main technique used for this is Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy as developed by Susan Johnson and Les Greenberg. 

Bringing intimacy back into a tired relationship

In marriage and long term relationships couples often start to take each other for granted. We stop wooing each other: no more flowers and breakfast in bed. Instead we drive children to sports, worry about paying bills or getting the next promotion. Everything else seems to have become more important than the couple; romance is non-existent and even sex seems to be a chore. The most common trap that couples fall into is not spending enough time together.

“Rekindling the flame” in counselling means exploring ways how to make more time for the marriage, and how to put more energy into the relationship. Partners are assisted to explore strategies to become more aware of each other’s needs and how to fulfill them. This in turn will increase intimacy. Bringing more passion into the marriage can involve doing more of the things together both partners feel passionate about, or it may involve talking about how to bring more passion into the bedroom.

Ways to a sexually fulfilling relationship

Sexual issues and our relationship are tightly interwoven, and to consider them in isolation from each other is at the least, naïve. I subscribe to the belief that the most important sex organ of the body is the brain.

I support my clients to experience passion in their committed relationships. At the beginning of a relationship, our hormones can do that work for us, but that will diminish. Then come the “problems.” It’s those very “problems” (within a committed relationship) that hold the potential to growing love and intimacy which is one of the purposes and gifts of a long-term relationship.

The best sex, (and the best key to intimacy at all levels) comes from each person becoming strong in their own self (David Schnarch* uses the family systems term “differentiation” – i.e.the ability to stand on one’s own two feet). The best teacher for marriage, is marriage – nobody is ‘ready’ for marriage before the wedding. And the best resource for sexual intimacy and passion is to grow within a committed relationship. So you can begin to see that couple counselling and sexual counselling are actually enriching aspects of the same process. Most sexual “issues” stem from earlier (or current) relationship issues – often from within one’s family of origin. The goal is to help clients to a new freedom to become and enjoy being a vital healthy sexual person, to the end that the freedom, love and intimacy in the relationship becomes possible.

The most common problem I encounter is desire discrepancy, one partner wanting to have more sex than the other. While in most cases the men want to have more action, I am seeing an increasing number of women who want more, or ‘better’ sex. Other common sexuality issues, I have helped couples or individuals with, include erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, sex addition, and others.

* Passionate Marriage (Holt: New York. 1997). This is one of my favorite books on sexual counselling.