Couples therapy and relationship counselling in Bristol

Couples therapy and relationship counselling in Bristol

Logo People are Good V4 bold colour
Michelle Obama on couples therapy: “I want young people to know that marriage is work. Even the best marriages require work …  I don’t want young people to quit the minute they have a hardship. Because I always say you’re married for 50 years and 10 of them are horrible, you’re doing really good!”  Full interview


There’s a saying that whenever people in love fight, they are fighting to make love work. Taken rightly, conflicts can show the way to deepen a relationship, not destroy it. Not realising this, many couples drown within reach of the shore and split up entirely un-necessarily. Some don’t know how to swim, others swim in circles. Many just give up too soon.

Start couples therapy early

There’s high-quality research that the earlier couples address difficulties the better.  Relationship counselling is not weak, it is not inadequate, it is definitely not in itself a sign of a failed relationship. It’s inevitable that love brings up buried hurts, protections, and bad communication habits. And at school we learn STEM subjects, but not the depth understandings to live with other human beings.

There’s a saying that every fight is a fight to make love work. Fights can be less of a problem than they appear, provided people bring to the conflict underlying love, respect and appreciation of the other person. One thing that is problem is when fights evolve into hostility and hurting each other. That really does bruise love. Don’t let it get to that.

Even better, come along preventatively. Relationship therapy is a sign of committment to go on the adventure of love together.

What couples therapy offers you

Relationship counselling is an opportunity to work together towards a deeper connection in partnership and love. It’s an opportunity to listen and understand, and to be heard and understood. It’s an opportunity to set aside responses based in pain and anger, that never worked, and find what does work. It’s a chance to disrupt cyclic repeating scripts, and communicate in this moment now. It’s an opportunity to keep in sight what is good and you do love in the other person, and let that change things. It’s a setting to look for concrete practical everyday actions that help change a downward spiral into an upward one. It’s a place of safety to get over the fear of being real and so step out from behind masks and make deeper and more authentic connection than playing safe can ever give.

Love is the method

Love isn’t just the goal, love – understanding, listening, speaking gently, being vulnerable, trusting the best in the other person, trusting the best in yourself, being constructive, being lightheared, being mutual – love is the method too. The essential starting point is what is good, what is loving, what you do value and appreciate in each other and in the other person. It’s easy that these slip from our fingers when we are hurting or angry, but they are vital to keep firm hold of.

Can couples therapy save every relationship and marriage?

No, and nor should it try. Some relationships are wonderful for a while but not longer term. Some long-term loving relationships may end with much sadness but little hurt  as partners evolve in different directions. Some relationships are learning experiences and just do not work. Sometimes major issues cause extreme division, or partners are so caught up in their own childhood hurt they can’t be adult.

And of course toxic or abusive relationships need to be escaped from [which it should be said can be very, very difficult to do.]

In these situations, couples therapy give a chance to get clarity, and move forward maybe with sadness but on solid understanding. And you get the chance to work through issues around splitting-up in a safe setting, and if needed around being parents together.

Constructive action not negative analysis

Even today, much traditional marriage counselling focuses on problems, bad feelings and unpicking the painful oh-yes-you-did oh-no-I-didn’t of the past. My starting point assumes individual are good and loving, capable and resourceful and starts by looking for everything good and loving in and around the problems.  It looks in the past for the evidence that the future you want is possible. For example:

  • What things already go right, maybe small and maybe occasionally, that you’d love to have more of?
  • What do you know about the other person that gives you trust things can be better?
  • What do you want the other person to remember about you that will give him or her hope that things can be better?

I’ve asked these types of question to clients really a lot (it amazed me to calculate a  hundred of thousands or so of individual questions) and this solution-oriented approach can change lives.

Difficult things have to be faced …

Of course this is only a beginning. In couples therapy difficult issues, long avoided, have to be faced head on including  affairs, sexual needs and longings, unjust sharing of responsibilites, lack of connection. Understandings that may be hard to hear have to be shared. Needs that may be scary to acknowledge need to be brought into the open.

… and difficult things need safety

I never just jump into painful difficult topics. My starting point is often: “What does your beloved bring to this hard conversation that helps you feel safe? What are you bringing to the conversation that will make him or her safe?” And expanding that question for perhaps a long time, maybe a whole session, and so leading gently and gradually to the affair or whatever the hurt is.

Self-love – what are you proud of?

When we don’t love ourselves, then we feel a need to protect the parts inside us that we imagine are unlovable or weak or shameful. And, your partner does the same. Your childhood patterns of protection meet your partner’s childhood patterns of protection. The result is a tangled cycle of hurt, projection, protection and retaliation. This is climbing weed takes over the garden. It strangles the flowers of intimacy, tenderness, and delicate opening to love. It equally undermines the strong roots of assertiveness, clear honesty of boundaries and loving strength.

So a powerful solution-oriented question that no-one expects is: In the marriage or partnership, what in yourself are you proud of – even in rare moments? What in yourself are you happy that your partner sees in you, even occasionally?

Even stranger: in the actual problem or issue, despite all the anger, hurt and storming off, what moment are you proud of, or happy that your partner sees in you?

Unexpected questions like these can open many closed doors. Everything works so much better when we feel good about ourselves. It’s the love for ourselves that we share.

[Relationship therapists sometimes refer to these same things using words like projection, shadow, introjected family patterns, and parent/adult/child state. Just the terminology is different.]

Understanding each other – the bedrock

The bedrock of connection and intimate tenderness is understanding. Alas the norm is often incomprehension and angry cyclic failure to get your point across.

So in relationship therapy I make it a main focus to work for each person to feel deeply understood. And also, I aim to build communication based on understanding into the everyday fabric of the marriage or relationship. People really, really need to be understood.

Actions as well as feelings

If you only analyse past emotions, you can get in the situation in which you understand where problems arise from, but nothing ever actually changes. You need to take action and do practical things differently right from the start.

Now, these first steps may need to be small. That’s because if perhaps the situation between two people is really cold it’s too much to open one’s heart all at once. But equally you can’t wait and wait for the other person to offer the first loving olive branch while the other person waits and waits for you. So mutual small steps are good. The important thing is to make changes in action right from the beginning.

For example couples often say that they feel, already even before the first session, maybe twice as many small everyday moments of appreciation than they express out loud. So say them all! – love is the pathway, not just the goal.

If it doesn’t work, don’t do it – Instagram video loops

Then, we all keep on doing over and over and over again things that never worked. If it didn’t work before, it won’t work the next time. So when you start re-living an oft-repeated looping video short, take a deep breath, look each other in the eye, and say “Let’s have a break and come back to it later on.” Or say “You know what? We love each other. Let’s find a loving way.” Or communicate in writing, or by text, or holding hands, or talk while having a hug – do anything different, take any action at all that is different and breaks out of the Instagram loop.

Guesstimate of number of sessions

On average, couples come for five to ten sessions, ish. You will of course get a good sense of how things are going much earlier than that. There is no commitment to any fixed number of sessions. You get a free choice of time between sessions, and most people choose three or four weeks, or sometimes fornightly just to start off with. Prior to starting we have a half hour initial meeting; see below on this page.

Please forgive my necessary imprecision. On the one hand, everyone wants an idea of what’s what. At the same time it is a basic thing in all therapy to not hold out any kind of promise, any kind of prediction, any kind of dream, or anything of any kind that can’t in reality be assured.

Contact and map  Office hours   Fees

Free preliminary meeting – no obligation

Most people have never tried counselling before, and it’s a major decision. I’ve answered some common questions on this page. But personally in my own life whenever I’ve done any therapy or personal development I’ve always met the therapist or workshop leader first. So If you have questions, you are welcome to make a time to come along and have a chat. There’s no obligation and no charge for this half-hour initial meeting. I love meeting people, you are indeed welcome.

Contact and map  Office hours   Fees

Relationship counselling and couples therapy resources

I especially like this exercise – it’s creative:

Other resources:

Contact and map  Fees  Office hours

What my clients say

You are really, really a very kind person. Thank you for your effort and advice in helping me!

I was never convinced counselling would work. But your approach and your ability to use different methods to suit individual needs has truly changed me on a deep level.

The very first session I had with him was so helpful and powerful that I recommended him to two other people straightaway.

Andrew works gently and safely and I felt held in a safe space throughout the session.

I have made some major breakthroughs in sessions with you.

I was blown away by your insightful and transformative approach.

A different approach from other therapists I have seen before, so that I have finally solved my problem.

More happened in the first session I had with you than in 4 or 5 sessions with a counsellor.

[Your hypnosis] was remarkably effective and entirely different and tailor-made for my individual needs and experiences. Thank you!!!

Although counselling was new territory for me, it was invaluable and worth every penny.

Had a massive effect on my relationship. Learned loads of really good stuff – surpassed my expectations.

Andrew is one of the best therapists I have ever worked with. If you want to make a breakthrough with an issue in your life or relationship, I highly recommend…

I have made some incredible progress and I am now in an intimate and happy relationship thanks to your help.