Relationship counselling: Before a gap turns into a gulf
An increasing number of urban couples have been disregarding social stigma to approach psychologists for relationship counselling
Vijeta (29)* and Vishal (27)* married nearly four months ago after dating for more than two years. They call themselves a happy couple, but it took a great deal of effort for them to get there.
Almost one year into the relationship, they had trouble bonding. Each carried the baggage of past relationships and though they were committed to getting married, it was hard to accommodate the other’s history.
“We wanted to improve our relationship and decided to meet a counsellor,” says Vijeta, a marketing professional.
The sessions were held once a week and lasted for nearly an hour. The couple was given questionnaires designed to reflect their personality and thoughts. The replies helped the counsellor understand their individual strengths and weaknesses and offer suggestions accordingly.
It helped a great deal, they say. “We could understand ourselves and our insecurities. Once I realised that I was jealous because she was still in touch with her ex, I could deal with it better. Also, I was more vocal about my dislikes and so Vijeta understood them better,” says Vishal.
Tina Gupta*, 31, and Kunal Mehra*, 34, who got married in December 2013, also feel visiting the relationship counsellor was the most sensible decision they took
to save their marriage.
“We had dated each other for over 5 years before we got married, so we thought we knew each other inside out. However, a month into the marriage, and we started to get this feeling that we were strangers,” says Kunal. Tina agrees. “After finishing household chores that were left for the weekend I wanted to relax at home, but he would insist on going out. After a tiring week day I wanted to relax but there was this mandatory phone call to his family that would go on for almost an hour daily. These were acting as triggers,” she says.
“Luckily one of my friends is a trained psychologist; we consulted her without wasting time. She spent 15 sessions with us and it has done us a great deal of good.”
Several urban couples have been disregarding social stigma to approach psychologists for relationship counselling to bond better. “Young couples believe that prevention is better than cure,” says Sadia Saeed, founder and chief psychologist at Malad’s Inner Space counselling centre in Mumbai.
“These couples are sensitive to the relationship and believe that marriage is about growing together rather than just pulling along.”
Sonal Sood, a psychotherapist who runs a clinic in the upscale Jorbagh area in Delhi, sees about 15 couples in a week, the number was 4-5 till about a decade ago.
“There’s definitely a shift in the trend as about a decade ago couples would come only when the relationship was in dire straits and now a majority comes before things get worse. The reason could be increasing awareness. However, most of them do not tell their family or friends that they are seeking therapy,” she says.
Saeed also attributes the shift in trend to the fact that society is changing, and gender roles are too. “In the past, women used to stay at home and men went to work. The roles complemented each other. Most discord among couples today comes from the ambiguity in those roles and the changing expectations from them.”
Sood says, “First two-three years of marriage are critical when it comes to making adjustments. Earlier couples would have children early in marriage and got busy, but nowadays children are planned late, which gives them more time with each other and pick on their weaknesses.” “It is also good in a way that these couples are seeking help early while they are still willing to make a change. After a point it becomes difficult to put the relationship back on track.”
Neha Patel, a psychologist who runs Sharnam Therapy & Healing centre in Juhu and is affiliated to Nanavati Hospital, says that even before there are fractures in a relationship, there are several problems that counselling could help with. “It could be about sharing responsibilities in the house that partners can differ on, or when to have children and how many. Sexual incompatibility is also a major reason of discord.”
Dr Kamal Khurana, mentor- Inner Self Integration Worldwide, says, “It’s the increased frustration level among couples that is creating most problems; they don’t know how to handle their own emotions and take it out on their partners who might be experiencing similar upheaval.”
Other modern problems include money, and unsurprisingly, social media. “With both the partners working these days, how to share finances becomes an issue,” Patel says. “Many people also complain that their partners spend a lot of time on social media which leaves them feeling left out.”
When it comes to a trigger for marital discord, the reasons could be different for men and women. Men generally look for space, they would want to hang out with friends and want some time away from their partner. But a woman may want to spend more time with their spouse.
How does a couple know they’re headed down the path of trouble and need professional help to get back on track? Psychologists say there could be many small signs such as your partner finding excuses to avoid you or being secretive. You should also become alert if he or she is hiding his or her phone. Also, if your partner often insults you or puts you down, it could be a sign of a bigger problem.
“The most noteworthy sign is if there’s communication breakdown: couples build up resentment before they begin the important work of learning to resolve differences in effective ways. They just have the same argument over and over again with no resolution,” says Shivani Misri Sadhoo, relationship and marriage counsellor.