As an English speaking therapist in Stockholm I meet regularly with couples who are struggling with aspects of their relationship.
For expats, the stress of relocation and dealing with cultural and climatic differences does put pressure on relationships. Many who consult me have decided to live in Sweden because they have a Swedish partner. Others have arrived in the country with their girlfriend or boyfriend (or husband or wife) to take up a position in multinational company. And some people have arrived in Sweden on their own and met a special Swede (or someone else) in the meantime.
Each of these circumstances brings its own challenges. Within relationships it is not uncommon for everyday pressures to compound and start affecting the way partners relate to each other. Language barriers are obviously a factor here and non-Swedes can be, by necessity, at least for the first year or two, quite dependant on those close to them to get through the bureaucracy and procedures associated with employment, banking, tax affairs and residency requirements (just to name a few!). There is also the question of how to start establishing social connections. As expats, we are not only getting to grips with Swedish culture and language but developing a new identity and sense of ourselves as individuals and as partners.
What might get lost in all of this is the passion or tenderness of the relationship, sex or intimacy, the meaning of a marriage or the easiness of being with each other. Even living with each other as a ‘sambo’ can seem to get harder. The aspects of the partnership that were working previously might seem to have disappeared and even the memories of a shared past might seem very distant.
How Can Couples Therapy Help a Relationship?
There are a number of ways in which meeting with a relationship therapist can be helpful.
Firstly, counselling and therapy appointments provide a space for couples to step outside of the usual positions they take with each other. At my counselling room I try to make these meetings as relaxed as possible and if you could see us talking it might look like we were just having a conversation. But actually, couples therapy and marriage counselling conversations are like building a new platform from which to consider the relationship. A separate place away from the chaos, crises and mess of what has been going on. These therapeutic conversations can be like coming up out of a canyon or ravine and taking a new position at a scenic look-out. I invite people to discuss where they would like to be with the relationship, what they want to let go of and what they want to hold onto in making these shifts. And we also discuss practical ways you might get to this better ‘place’ for real.
Occasionally I am asked about what method or technique I use with couples. The truth is there isn’t one approach that works for everyone. If there was it would be in a single book that we could all read. But perhaps there are a lot of different formulas or approaches others have used and, once I get to know more about your shared situation, I am happy to talk about some of the ideas that couples have shared with me that have been helpful to them. I draw not only from my training, reading and years of experience working with relationships but also from the experiences and journeys that other couples have shared with me.
Resolving a relationship difficulty or crisis in a marriage or other partnership starts with a simple commitment to sit down together in the presence of a third person, the therapist. This in itself is significant because it is an acknowledgement that both individuals are interested in changing the situation. Therapists are witnesses to many of the forces that keep people together: companionship, respect, admiration, shared hopes and passions, sex, intimacy, trust, a sense of parental duty and love of course. When we start talking about what has happened and each person’s hopes or expectations of the appointments, there are a number of things I have noticed start happening. These include acknowledgement, recognition, remembering, recovering, renegotiation, constructing strategies together, making new efforts and regaining balance. Counselling consultations can contain defining moments for couples and the process of therapy can be a rite of passage in itself.
Therapy Together and Separately for Greater Understanding
Occasionally I am asked to act as a kind of umpire or judge as to what is ‘okay’ or ‘not okay’ in the relationship. This isn’t a role I am prepared to play because it denies the couple their own decision making skills (I often say that if I had wanted to be a judge of others, I would have studied law instead of counselling and psychotherapy!). However I am prepared to help explore individual standpoints in relation to what has been going on and create opportunities where each person can be heard with respect. I generally find this approach leads to greater understanding for everyone.
In the journey of settling into a new country and all the challenges presented by such a move, we often find ourselves facing personal tests that play into or disrupt our relationships, partnerships and marriages. For example, we might be reconnected with a vulnerability we have not experienced for years. Or revisited by a fear we thought we had already overcome. Most people can name at least one or two such ‘issues’ they have had to deal with at some stage in life. At this point I should say that I often find when the individuals in a couple start sorting out their own ‘stuff’ or ‘issues’ (so as to speak), the difficulties or ‘relationship problem’ tend to just disappear. This might be surprising given popular ideas that relationship counselling always needs to involve the couple seeing a therapist together. I’m not suggesting that the disappearance of the problem or difficulty happens in all situations where each partner attends individual sessions but it is definitely common. So if you are reading this blog post and both willing to try it, going separately to counselling or therapy might also be an option for you.
When I work with individuals and couples, one of the ways in which I work is to help people establish their own connections so they have support outside of the relationship. This can take some of the pressure off the relationship as well as assist to develop or reinforce each person’s own skills, abilities and knowledge.
Relationships change and evolve just like individuals. Changes happen when people move in together, when they are expecting a child or become parents, when someone starts a new job or a business, as we age and simply over the course of time. Meeting with a therapist is a chance to let go of what might have been holding the relationship back as well as to hold onto and acknowledge what is still important to you both.
I work with both straight and gay couples. Couples counselling is available face to face at Hornstull on Södermalm in Stockholm or over the net via Skype webcam. If you would like to give either a try and need more information about my fees and availability, please contact me here or call 08-559 22 636 and leave a message.
Want to share this article? Tweet #CouplesTherapy
Tweet it from Twitter or add a link from your website or blog.