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Couples Counselling: Are You Feeling Stuck?

Why do we get “stuck” in our relationships?

We tend to think that the arguments we have with our partner are unique to “us”. But actually research shows that the same patterns play out over and over in everyone’s relationships – and WHAT you argue about isn’t nearly as important as HOW you argue (or fight or disagree). The drama in the relationship of so many couples revolves around a powerful struggle between partners that plays out over months, years and even decades. They find themselves totally stuck.

What are main reasons to get stuck?
  • Our need to feel safe and cared for

As humans, of course we ALL have deeply rooted needs to feel we are important and special to others with whom we belong, that they care for our hurts, and protect our well-being. We naturally depend on our partners to fulfill these needs. If we feel that they are not being fulfilled, this will cause us to feel stressed and anxious and…

  • We take action if we feel that we aren’t safe or cared for

We make moves to adjust our situation when we’re feeling stressed due to thinking our partner doesn’t feel we’re important or doesn’t care for us. We have a strong inbuilt need to protect ourselves from harm.

  • It’s different with partners than with friends and colleagues

Our moves impact our partner a great deal more than they impact our friends and colleagues, and a great deal more than we realise. When one partner makes a move, it pulls the other partner into making a countermove – either immediately, or after the impact builds up over time. We naturally and automatically adapt to each other’s moves to protect ourselves

  • We often don’t spot positive change

The downside of this constant adaptation and change is that even when our partner behaves differently, e.g., in a clearer, softer, and more vulnerable way, we don’t perceive them as acting differently enough to take in a change is happening. When we don’t register a change, we don’t act any differently, and that prevents our partner from getting the positive feedback they need to continue their different move.

  • It’s easy to feel hopeless, that we’ve tried everything

Many people believe they’ve tried everything, exhausting all the moves they can think of to make a difference in their relationship. It’s extremely disheartening when nothing works.

  • We shut down or withdraw

If we feel there is absolutely nothing we can do to make things different, our only known alternative is to shut down and not move at all. This is equivalent to giving up, a position we can’t maintain very long without serious consequences to our health and well-being. Unfortunately, this also means many of us are in a lose-lose situation

When partners are stuck in struggles, each partner continues to feel deprived of the love, acceptance, caring and security they long for. It is natural at that point for partners to wonder “who is to blame?” Inside, each partner criticizes themselves, impacting their own self-esteem, and judges their partner, perhaps thinking their partner is “lazy,” “uncaring,” incapable,” “bad,” “cold”, “mean” or even “narcissistic.”

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with relationships or indeed with any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today! An excellent video by John Gottman, one of the most highly respected relationship experts

I also recommend anything by couples’ expert Esther Perel: A series of excellent podcasts on all aspects of couples counselling and   Two great videos

See also: Relationship Counselling, Relationships: How Men and Women Deal with Stress Differently,