LIFESTYLE
10/05/2018 11:28 SAST | Updated 10/05/2018 11:29 SAST

Traditional Couple's Counselling May Not Be Your Relationship's Solution

And this is why.

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Jo-Anna Francis says marriage counselling is the reason her marriage ended, and she says she'd warn anyone else to "think very carefully before going down the same path".

"Without the counselling, I'm convinced we would eventually have climbed out of the marital hole in which we found ourselves and still be married today. Instead, it opened Pandora's box," she wrote to The Daily Mail.

She sought professional help after she and her husband of three years developed marital problems, and these were her main problems with the counselling:

1. Age of therapist

She says she was shocked to discover the female therapist was as old as her grandparents. "The thought of talking through my sex life with someone the same age as my gran was not appealing."

2. Sex ban advice

"Our therapist suggested a 'sex ban', a way of removing the pressure to be intimate. I felt it was a sensible plan — but Alex saw it as a sign I had 'won'; that it was the excuse I'd been looking for not to be intimate with him."

3. Childhood and relationship history probing

"The endless delving into our childhoods and relationship histories didn't seem to achieve anything, either.

I wanted to look to the future, not be forever defined by the fact my parents divorced when I was two and I'd had a tricky relationship with my stepdad. Perhaps I was naive, but I expected therapy to focus on the here and now."

4. Post-session tension

"After each session, without fail, there would be an emotionally charged, silent drive home. I felt at fault and I'm sure Alex felt drained."

5. Taking sides

"We were encouraged to have a session each on our own. I didn't think these were a great idea, but accepted it as part of the process. I worried the counsellor would take sides on the basis of what we'd said and felt under pressure to make my 'case'.

I was correct. Afterwards, we were both suspicious of what the other one had said."

After six months of counselling, they stopped going and about six months later, started divorce proceedings.

Traditional counselling sessions were short and sporadic, many of them were happy to simple guide us toward a divorce, and none of them were prepared to go to the depths we wanted.

Local relationship counsellor and therapist Louis Venter told HuffPost that traditional couple's counselling may not be ideal for every relationship. After he and his wife of more than ten years ran into some marital trouble soon after they got married, he says looking for help wasn't easy. "It didn't take us long to realise that there was very little help out there."

And upon signing up for traditional counselling, they found that it didn't help them much.

"Traditional counselling sessions were short and sporadic, many of them were happy to simply guide us toward a divorce, and none of them was prepared to go to the depths we wanted," he said.

"Traditional counselling can often drag out the process of change. And while I wholly believe that restoration is a process that takes time and commitment, sometimes couples in dire circumstances need an intensive and immediate intervention that propels them out of unhealthy patterns," said Venter.

They eventually found help through an alternative form of couple's therapy, called Imago Relationship.

Venter strongly believes in counselling, but counselling that is tailored as well as possible to the couple's unique experience, as marital problems are different — so can't be always solved with a blanket approach.

Today, Francis is convinced that had she and her husband not gone to therapy, they would have just "got on with things".

"We were old enough to know marriage wouldn't be all hearts and flowers and that the basis of marriage should be a good friendship, which we had. Counselling eroded that. We ended up in a 'who loves who the most' competition — not what I had wanted at all."

"If we could have just talked honestly to each other, I'm convinced we would have overcome our problems and regained our intimacy," she said.