Relationship Counselling - Why it's a good idea

The Stages a Relationship goes throughRelationship Counselling Provides A Structure

Relationship counselling provides a structure for you to nourish and build on what works in your relationship and have a safe place to work through issues.

Like many couples you might find yourselves getting stuck repeating the same arguments and patterns or it may be you want to have more intimacy or you wish to work through a break of trust.

It's common these days to get tired, stressed, worn down through work commitments or looking after children which leaves little time to focus on your relationship and each other.  Sometimes busy-ness fills the gap to avoid looking at what is going on.

If you are in conflict it can be reassuring  to know that periods of 
conflict are normal and can be worked through. It's how you deal with the conflict that counts.

5 Relationship Stages

The Pyramid Diagram provides a structure to show how relationships change over time. Understanding the  different stages helps you understand your relationship better. It can also be reassuring to see that what you are experiencing fits within a stage.

I'll describe each of the five stages:

  1. Attraction - Little effort is required to feeling loving and loved
  2. Maintenance - Getting to know each other through day to day living
  3. Polarisation - Conflicts and arguments arise that create distance
  4. Healing - Conflicts are worked through
  5. Intimacy - Trust and good communication bring security and closeness

Attraction - Feeling Loving and Loved

In the Attraction Stage we usually see the best of each other. We are attracted to our partner’s qualities that compliment us or that we would like more of in ourselves. Attraction as well as being physical, is based on common values, similar status, shared ambitions and interests. It also has an unconscious element. Our unconscious attracts us to someone who is “familiar”  in some way. We are attracted to someone who fits our unconscious relationship bonding pattern.

Some couples come for relationship counselling early on in their
relationship when they have been hurt before and just
need some support, or reassurance, or would like to work through some
differences to allow trust to build. Understanding the messages you received early in your life about relationship and trust can help you to understand your feelings rather than be controlled by them.

Maintenance - Day to Day Living

We get to know each other through the routines of life. A loving emotional bond builds through getting to know the real person and through being known ourselves.The feelings of desire and passion tend to fade unless a couple actively keep their relationship fresh and alive. It's normal to some face some disappointment when our partner doesn't live up to the image we had of them. In this stage we might not yet feel safe enough to be fully ourselves and say what we feel, so we find ways of avoiding major conflict or feeling vulnerable. Anger or withdrawal can be away of protecting the relationship from underlying feelings.

We may avoid the big issues out of the fear of losing the love we want. We are comfortably close, yet avoid becoming closer, even though part of us would like to be. It's common for couples to be in a distance/pursuer pattern. One distances while the other pursues. For some of us our relationship looks fine on the outside, yet on the inside we don't feel relaxed and free to be ourselves. Suppressing what we feel   leads to a lack of energy and sexual desire. Maybe there is, that ,'something missing feeling?' or  "I don't feel I am being myself ?" feeling. It could be you  are the "good partner"  who has learnt to please at the cost of your needs because you learnt that you need to be 'good' to loved.  Maybe you would like more passion and grit, but we are not sure how to bring it into the relationship. So often the answer seems to be that," it's our partner that needs to change"; or the answer seems to be outside the relationship.

Relationship counselling can help you  communicate better and feel safe about exploring  what's important to you. We focus on how you as couple create a shared pattern.   It's a relief to be both looking at a shared pattern that you both take responsibility for and work on together rather than looking for who is to blame.

Relationship counselling isn't just about looking at problems.  It's also about building skills on how to appreciate each other and find ways to anourish your relationship.

Polarisation - Conflicts and Arguments Create Distance

A degree of conflict is part of a healthy relationship. It's how we communicate and work through our differences that counts.  The Polarisation stage is about  speaking up for what is important  while also being able to stay in relationship and be open to the  opposite points of view from our partner. This can  feel impossible when we feel raw and  triggered into strong emotion by each other. Arguments become unmanageable; issues can't be talked over, and resentment builds. We may be caught up in hurt feelings and begin to distrust each other. There might be a sense of failure and a longing for things to go back as they were at the beginning of the relationship. It's common to wonder ,'how come other couples we know seem to mange and we are going through this?  Polarisation is triggered by events such as:-

  • Making a commitment
  • Moving in together
  • Soon after getting married
  • Just before or soon after having children
  • A break of trust

Typically polarisation starts a few years into a marriage or committed relationship where it feels safe to move beyond the maintenance stage. Sometimes a partner attempts to deal with a feeling of disconnection through using pornography, drinking, or having an affair or doing something else that leads to a break of trust.

Our parents/caregivers gave us a model template on how to be in relationship. It's where we learnt how to be loved and how to protect ourselves from being hurt. These unconscious bonding patterns remain active and are triggered in response to our partner. Our nervous system about how we respond to conflict is influenced though early experienced with our parents.

Often we protect ourselves by unconsciously trying to control our partner by becoming parental. In response they defend the activated vulnerable child feelings  by starting an argument  It might come as a surprise to discover that you and your partner unconsciously co-create the issues. It takes two. It’s bizarre, yet it's just how our unconscious works! Have you noticed how you can be more upset with your partner than with anyone else? Some couples are fortunate in that they can  "live with" their bonding patterns in relative harmony without needing to look at them. For many of us, spending some time understanding our bonding patterns can free us up from reacting in the same ways and having the same arguements over and over.

Relationship counselling offers a place to explore .We look at how you trigger each other and how to make sense of it,so you can step back, see what is going on, and respond rather than react. You discover that issues can be spoken about and worked through without repeated arguments.

Healing - Conflicts are Worked Through

Healing is a process that happens over time as we learn to include both our strength and vulnerability. We appreciate the limits of what our partner can give us , and how to love and nourish ourselves at the times our partner can’t. We take responsibility for the relationship patterns that are no longer serving us. We learn to risk trusting again. Relationship counselling gives you the opportunity/ skills/ framework to stop blaming each other and work together on the shared bonding pattern. You can, end "the relationship (pattern) as it is” and learn together step-by-step, how to love again from a place of authentic intimacy, and choice.

Intimacy - Building A Strong Emotional Bond

We all want to love and be loved. In order for 'a meeting of hearts' to take place, barriers must be dropped. Intimacy is a challenge as it requires us to step into the unknown, risk rejection and open our hearts. So often, in moments of intimacy we connect to our past longing and dependency. Relationship counselling helps you to take steps towards emotionally connecting to each other and re-build your emotional bond step by step.


Relationships are a great challenge for most people. Some couples never dare to discuss how they really feel inside (they stay in the Maintenance Stage); Others put up with conflict and hostility (they stay in Polarisation Stage) or believe the solution is to leave their relationship  (the denial of one's own pattern to avoid working through issues in the Polarisation stage.)

Paradoxically, it's just at the point when everything feels stuck and hopeless, and in crisis, that there is the motivation to face up to what is not working. A Relationship counselling session weekly or once every other week is  powerful transformational process if you are stuck in conflicts and arguments that leave you emotionally disconnected from your partner. My experience is that most couples find getting help a relief, and those who are willing to take an honest look at what is going on, worthwhile.  Some couples want to work short term to get over an immediate crisis, other couples are ready to really look at what is going on and  see the value of doing working deeply on their relationship.

(Acknowledgement to  The Centre for Gender Psychology for this Pyramid Model.)

Copyright. 2012 Richard Cole

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