Mike Gray Couple Counsellingfor Kingston upon Thames and Surbiton

Marriage and Couple counselling

I have chosen to specialise in couple and relationship work – what used to be called marriage guidance. In addition to the skills that all counsellors have of empathy, support, and giving people space to explore their thoughts and feelings, I work to be able to understand both halves of a couple, and avoid siding with one against the other. I help both people take responsibility – not just make demands of each other. A relationship counsellor needs to be able to intervene firmly, confront problematic behaviour, and make sure both people get the chance to speak and be heard.

See this short article: How couple counselling works.

The short articles below on this page may give you an idea of the kind of problems I often see, although every couple is different.

I am not able to work with couples where there is ongoing domestic abuse or violence, or serious addiction or psychiatric problems, as these problems are best dealt with by specialists working with the individual concerned, not with the couple.

How to get the most from couple counselling

• Understand that I won’t make your decisions for you. I don’t want to just settle the “problem of the week” – I want to ask you how the pattern of that problem is the same as the pattern of other problems you’ve had in the past.

• Accept that your situation may not be simple. If it was, you would probably already have solved it.

• Think in terms of your own individual goals – what are your values? What kind of relationship do you want to be in? Have you ever discussed this with your partner? And in that relationship, what kind of partner do you want to be?

• Understand that effort will be required. Improving the relationship will usually involve making changes to habits that have developed in you over many years. This might well be a struggle at first. It’s not a matter of just turning up to counselling sessions, or of understanding things. At some point, you have to decide to behave differently, and make efforts to carry that out. This will benefit you. Really, we can talk about things, but the purpose of that is to help you figure out what you can do differently.

If you are reading this, you are probably a diligent person, who wants to make things better. Well done for getting this far! Just be aware that until you and your partner agree on what “better” means, you need to go gently.

• So the overall attitude I’d recommend each of you to bring to this is: I am going to use this counselling to figure out what changes to make in myself. I will make those changes, and observe how my partner responds. Whether this ultimately “saves” the relationship or not, either way, I will have benefited from making those changes in myself!

• I don’t know you, but some examples of the changes you might decide to make in yourself could be: (1) getting better control of your own emotions; (2) learning to express yourself less vaguely and more briefly; (3) improving your ability to listen to another person with interest and curiosity; (4) getting better at doing what you said you would do (and not saying you’ll do things unless you are sure you can and will); (5) not giving up too easily. All of these skills will help you in life.

Why did my husband or wife have an affair?

It can be devastating to discover your partner has had an affair. You may be unsure what to do - whether you can go to friends and family for support, or whether telling them will only make things worse. You may have many questions, or repetitive thoughts about what happened. You may wonder if it has happened before, or what else you don't know. My first advice is not to react too suddenly.

There are many different reasons why affairs happen. Sometimes it's about a problem in the relationship, but not always.

There are good books available about affairs, how they happen, and how to recover from them. Recovery is often possible if both partners want it. But the situation is usually too tense for partners to work through without outside help. My approach is around understanding what happened, and helping partners rebuild trust. It is non-judgemental and non-blaming. Read this article for more details.

How to have a good argument

Perhaps we should call this "respectful communications". Often couples have communication difficulties, caused by different styles or ways of communicating.

And then there are arguments. Arguments are not always a bad thing, but they need to be respectful and properly conducted. If a couple have given up on arguments, and just keep quiet about their discontents and problems, then that's usually a bad sign.

A couple counsellor can referee discussion on one specific topic, but more importantly, they can help you learn the skills to argue (or discuss) respectfully and productively, about the real issues, so that you can use those skills repeatedly in the future.

One of the most important things is to stick to one topic at a time. Read this article for more about arguments.

How to handle conflict

Want to know how to handle criticism? See this article for my best piece of relationship advice!

Many people get into destructive cycles of arguments because they put all their energy into trying to persuade their partner to be different, instead of trying to change themselves. The only person you can change is yourself. If that's not good enough, then you may need to re-evaluate whether this is the right relationship. But step 1 is to change yourself.

Drifting apart

Or "I love you, but I’m not in love any more". Or "we've grown apart". "The spark has gone". "I need space". Maybe there's a lack of passion, not enough time, or boredom. Have you heard or felt any of these things?

Couples with these problems often don't really argue - they just work around each other, spend time on their separate pursuits. Maybe they are each afraid that things aren't working out. There is no real energy in the relationship. They are drifting apart.

Read this article for more information.

Why does my partner want to end our relationship?

Is your partner talking about splitting up, moving out, "taking a break", "needing space", separation, divorce?

Read this article.

Should I leave?

Are you wondering about ending the relationship?

If you are in a serious relationship, (more than just "dating"), then my advice is often no, not yet, unless you are in some kind of danger.

Obviously I don't know anything about your situation yet. I will be honest here. I am pro-marriage. I will not be "neutral" in the sense of just "helping you decide" whether to go. (That can mean just focusing on your negative feelings and reinforcing them.) I will usually suggest trying to understand what is happening first, and I would prefer to try fixing it before thinking of splitting up.

Read this article for more.

Nice Guys (and Gals) - the people-pleasers

Is your partner a bit of a people-pleaser?

Sometimes it feels as if your partner will never say what they're really thinking. They just say whatever they think you want to hear. Perhaps they do everything "right": they do good housework, never shout, take care to be considerate in bed... How can you possibly complain? And yet perhaps you feel there's something missing. You can tell that underneath, they are not happy, and they're not willing to tell you why. If you ask them what they'd like for dinner tonight, they're going to say "I don't know, what would you like?"

Or maybe you are the people-pleaser. You try to make sure your partner is happy. You never complain. You do everything that you should do, and yet somehow, you never get what you really wanted in return. It seems unfair.

The book "No More Mr Nice Guy" by Dr Robert Glover describes men who suffer from this, but in fact, it can apply equally to women. And it's destructive to relationships.

See this article for a more detailed discussion.

Individual issues

I am happy to work with men one-to-one on relationship-related issues.
For example,

  • getting over a past relationship
  • a pattern of poor relationships
  • co-dependency.

  • Sexual difficulties

    I will usually ask a couple whether their sex life is OK, because when there are relationship problems, their sex life usually suffers. If they never seem to get to bed at the same time, or sex causes arguments and resentments, spoken or unspoken, then we will need to consider that. Or if one or both are experiencing a loss of attraction or spark. Very often, relationship problems cause problems in the sex life, and vice versa.

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