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“I Just Can’t Continue As I Am… As We Are.” When It’s Time For Couples Counselling.

“I Just Can’t Continue As I Am... As We Are.” When It’s Time For Couples Counseling.

Not sure if your relationship could benefit from couples therapy? Leigh Matthews, Founder and Director of Therapy in Barcelona offers guidance on when and how to seek couples therapy. With sessions available online or in person, find out more at Therapy in Barcelona here.


Invest in Your Relationship

We invest in our education, physical health, cars, homes and travel, but isn’t it time to invest in one of the most important parts of our lives: our relationships?

According to one study, shockingly, couples delay getting help and remain distressed for an average of six years before entering couples therapy. Divorce rates can be as high as 50% in some countries and, expat marriages though not well studied, are thought to have levels of divorce much higher than average.

That old adage: “It takes two to tango,” rings true when it comes to seeing results in couples counselling. Both partners need to be motivated to work on the relationship for couples therapy to stand a chance of success. Ultimately, when things are not working in relationships, it is the couples who go to individual and couples counselling and make lifestyle changes who are most likely to stay together.

When Do You Need Couples Therapy?

A good measure of whether you need couples therapy or not is to ask: day-to-day, are there more negative feelings and interactions than positive feelings and interactions in your relationship? If the answer is “yes,” it’s time to get help.

What are some other red flags?

Things are rocky. There’s silence and distance. Perhaps constant anger and bitterness. Resentment doesn’t go away. Tension and arguments are frequent. Sex is routine or absent. You’re together, but you’re not together. The communication is bad. You feel unimportant. You feel lonely. You want more. You’ve had so many life challenges together it’s taken a toll on your relationship and connection.

In the case of expat relationships, relocation can either reinforce strengths in the relationship or transform the fractures of preexisting issues into major breaks. Intercultural relationships introduce a whole other set of challenges. There are many things that bring couples to therapy:

Stressors

  • Moving countries.
  • Culture shock.
  • Cultural clashes in intercultural relationships.
  • Having a new baby.
  • Finances.
  • Health.
  • Parenting differences.
  • Loss of a loved one.
  • Lack of outside support.
  • Problems with in-laws.
  • Lockdown and work from home together.

Lack of Emotional Connection

  • Distance.
  • Avoidance.
  • Lack of shared interests, activities, or values.

Lack of Trust

  • Infidelity.
  • Lying.
  • Jealousy.

Partner’s Behavior or Health Issues

  • Accompanying spouse depression.
  • Alcohol or substance abuse.
  • Mental health problems.
  • Unresolved childhood trauma.

Communication Problems

  • Failure to communicate expectations.
  • Arguing.
  • Criticizing.
  • Shutting down.

Intimate Partner Violence

  • Emotional abuse.
  • Physical abuse.

Sexual Concerns

If some things on this list resonate with you, it’s better to reach out sooner than later.  Whatever the case, feelings of unhappiness in a relationship are distressing and it is possible to get help. When you need help with something you’re unsure of how to fix or change, there is no shame in turning to a trained professional to help.

“I Do,” But “They Don’t.” Barriers to Seeking Therapy

The main power of couples counselling is that rebuilding together as a team is more effective than working with one partner alone. Most often at Therapy in Barcelona, we are approached by one partner who would like help with their relationship. However, this frequently devolves into a frustrating situation where there is no possibility of doing the work because their partner does not want couples therapy.

What comes between a relationship and couples therapy?

  • Partner doesn’t acknowledge the problem.
  • Shame about receiving therapy.
  • The myth “relationships don’t need work.”
  • Scepticism about the usefulness of therapy.
  • Cost of therapy.
  • Not knowing where to get help.
  • Fear that a therapist will “take sides.”
  • Belief that it’s too early on in the relationship to need assistance.

The best time to seek couples counselling is in the early stages of a relationship, to develop good habits from the outset. However, this is a rare occurrence with people believing good relationships don’t have problems or need work. Frequently, couples turn to people close to them to help deal with their relationship distress or read self-help books. The problem with self-help books is they are often not based on evidence and, for opposite-sex couples, tend to exaggerate the differences between cisgender men and cisgender women in relationships.

Can Therapy Really Help?

Yes! Research supports the effectiveness of couples therapy in getting couples back to a place of satisfaction and building resilience in addition to improving the health of both partners.

The success of the therapy will depend on multiple factors like:

  • Couples seeking help sooner rather than later.
  • Both partners’ motivation to make it work.
  • Severity and type of problems.
  • Therapist’s fit with the couple.
  • Doing “the work” between sessions.

Among many outcomes, therapy can help couples to:

  • Communicate better.
  • Repair conflict more quickly.
  • Be close to one another again.
  • Feel safe in the relationship.
  • Be kind to one another.
  • See if they should stay or go.
  • Grow and go through major life transitions or stressors.
  • Deepen trust, and address jealousy.
  • Rebuild after infidelity.
  • Break unhealthy patterns.
  • Identify and address issues around sex and intimacy.
  • Parent better together or distribute responsibility fairly.
  • Work on “conscious uncoupling” or divorce.
  • Navigate one partner’s illness or addiction.

How Can You Get the Most Out of Couples Therapy?

  • Be truthful about whether you want the relationship to work or end.
  • Write down the things you are unhappy about in your relationship.
  • Write down strengths for you, your partner and the relationship.
  • Write down the results you are looking for.
  • Be ready to do work in sessions and between sessions—this is not a quick fix.
  • Be honest in session.
  • Share your feelings, not just bare facts.
  • Give your therapist feedback about your experience of sessions and tasks given.

What Happens in Couples Therapy?

Many couples in relationship counseling repair and renew their relationship, whilst others find an amicable way to separate, divorce or co-parent together. Whatever the goal, there is no shame in seeking professional assistance as you would for car maintenance, medical issues, dental care or home repairs.

Sessions are usually 50 minutes long, and the number of sessions will depend on the issues at hand and the progress you make. Finding a qualified and experienced couples counsellor to help you and your partner is key.

A good couples therapist will help you and your partner define the issues that need tackling, they should act as a neutral professional and won’t take sides. A good therapist will be invested in supporting you as a team, focusing on strengths and navigating you toward learning strategies to make positive changes in your relationship together. You should both feel heard and able to voice your views and concerns.

Therapy in Barcelona is a great option with multiple English-speaking therapists who are psychology-trained and with experience and expertise in working with international and intercultural couples. Sessions can be online or face to face in our Barcelona offices. Many of our couples therapists are multilingual so we may be able to accommodate both partners’ languages in the therapy setting.

What Now?

If you feel resentment and conflict growing, if loneliness and unhappiness are the primary feelings in your relationship, and if you feel that connection and understanding have dropped away, it’s time to get help together. If your partner refuses to attend therapy, you may consider individual therapy to explore what is right for you.


Leigh Matthews is an Australian Psychologist and Founder of Therapy in Barcelona, an international team of English speaking therapists in Barcelona and online. Leigh has been living in Barcelona for ten years and is in an intercultural family with her Catalan husband and son. Leigh can be found on LinkedIn, Instagram at @therapyinbcn and on Facebook at @therapyinbarcelona. You can join Therapy in Barcelona’s Therapist Led Peer Support Group for tips and inspiration.

Consider reading our other articles about relationships:

A Few Rules for Navigating Intercultural Relationships

Couples Counselling in Barcelona

Couples Counselling