Relationship Counseling is the process of counseling the parties of a relationship in an effort to recognize and to better manage or reconcile troublesome differences and repeating patterns of distress. The relationship involved may be between members of a family or a couple, employees or employers in a workplace, or between a professional and a client.
Couples Therapy is a related and different process. It may differ from relationship counseling in duration. Short term counseling may be between 1 to 3 sessions whereas long term couples therapy may be between 12 and 24 sessions. (An exception may be brief or solution-focused couples therapy.)
In addition, Couples Therapy tends to be more ‘here and now’ and new coping strategies are the desired outcome. Couples Therapy is more about seemingly intractable problems with a relationship history, where emotions are the target and the agent of change.
Before the relationships between the individuals can begin to be understood, it is important for all to recognize and acknowledge that everyone involved has a unique personality, perception, set of values and history. Sometimes the individuals in the relationship adhere to different value systems. Institutional and societal variables (like the social, religious, group and other collective factors) which shape a person’s nature, and behavior must be recognized. A tenet of relationship counseling is that it is intrinsically beneficial for all the participants to interact with each other and with society at large with the least conflict possible. And where conflict arises as inevitably it does, to manage those conflicts consciously.
Most relationships will get strained at some time, resulting in their not functioning optimally and producing self-reinforcing, maladaptive patterns. These patterns may be called negative interaction cycles. There are many possible reasons for this, including insecure attachment, ego, arrogance, jealousy, anger, greed, poor communication/understanding or problem solving, ill health, third parties and so on.
Changes in situations like financial state, physical health, and the influence of other family members can have a profound influence on the conduct, responses and actions of the individuals in a relationship.
Often it is an interaction between two or more factors, and frequently it is not just one of the people who are involved that exhibit such traits. Relationship influences are reciprocal – it takes each person involved to make and manage problems.
A viable solution to the problem and setting these relationships back on track may be to reorient the individuals’ perceptions and emotions – how one looks at or responds to situations and feels about them. Perceptions of and emotional responses to a relationship are contained within an often unexamined mental map of the relationship, also called a love map by John Gottman. These can be explored collaboratively and discussed openly. The core values they comprise can then be understood and respected or changed when no longer appropriate. This implies that each person takes equal responsibility for awareness of the problem as it arises, awareness of their own contribution to the problem and making some fundamental changes in thought and feeling.
The next step is to adopt conscious, structural changes to the inter-personal relationships and evaluate the effectiveness of those changes over time.
“Typically for those close personal relations there is a certain degree in ‘interdependence’ – what means that the partners are alternately mutually dependent on each other. As a special aspect of such relations something contradictory is put outside: the need for intimacy and for autonomy.”
The common counterbalancing satisfaction these both needs, intimacy and autonomy, leads to alternately satisfaction in the relationship and stability. But it depends on the specific developing duties of each partner in every life phase and maturity.
— from Kaiser-Wienhoff Couples Direct Analysis CDA