Marriage and relationship counselling in Bristol

Marriage counselling and relationship coaching in Bristol

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Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard say the key to their happy marriage is bringing in a professional. Both actors — who married in 2013 — praised their decision to participate in couples therapy … ” full quote below on this page

Some relationships are fated to end. But many couples split up un-necessarily. They drown within reach of the shore. Some don’t know how to swim. Others swim – strongly, actively, yet in tragic ignorance – straight into terrible whirlpools.

Couples counselling is an opportunity to work together to re-connect with partnership and love. It’s an opportunity to listen and understand, and to be heard and understood. It’s an opportunity to set aside emotional responses, based in pain and anger, that never worked, and find what does work. It’s a chance to disrupt stale repeating scripts, and really communicate. It’s an opportunity to keep in sight what is good and you do love in the other person, and work constructively together to maximise that. Love isn’t just the goal, love – understanding, listening, speaking gently, being vulnerable, trusting the best in the other person – love is the method too.

That said, my experience is that not all couples problems are best dealt with by couples counselling!  If your relationship is in a crisis, couples work can be very useful and helpful. But if as a result your whole life is in a crisis – if you feel swamped by pain or anger and that the situation is a trainwreck –  then maybe you (both) would be much more benefited by individual counselling. This does not necessarily mean giving up on the relationship, it just means doing things a bit different than you might expect. This is important, and I’ve given it a whole section below, Do I need couples or individual counselling? Please read this.

Also in my experience, the earlier you come to counselling, either on your own or with your partner, the better. That’s was Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard in the quote above did.  Again, a section on this below.

How does constructive relationship counselling work?

Underlying everything I do with couples is solution-oriented counselling (“SOC”). This focusses on a simple but really powerful question: What works? And how can you do more of what works?

For example, everybody tells how the fights start. But a better question is, how do they end?  What do you learn from how they end that might be useful? Everyone tells about the pain, but a better question is, when things are good, what is that like? What do you see in the other person in those good times that you tend to forget in bad moments? And again: what do you know about the other person that gives you even a little hope things can be better? What do you hope the other person knows about you that should give him or her hope that things can be better? And if you began to draw on these things to make big or tiny constructive steps – for example, if you began to agree to not shout, to come back after walking out, to prioritise “us” time, to touch and caress more, or just good old tidy the kitchen each evening – what would the first, tiny step look like?

Solution-oriented counselling is respectful, non-blaming and doesn’t take sides. It is safe. It is constructive. There is no blame, no attack. It has faith in love: in a way that quickly makes sense, SOC by-passes negativity and focusses directly on what works – which is, love.  SOC emphasises practical change, there is no endless talking.  Above all, solution-oriented therapy embodies faith in people and faith in love. That counts for a lot.

I’ve asked these types of question to clients really a lot, around 200,000 times (that even surprised me when I worked it out!) and this approach changes lives.

It is not about wearing rose-tinted spectacles. It’s about doing what is actually useful to create understanding and communication. Blame, shame and self-reproach are simply useless. Re-connecting with moments the problems are less, works. Re-connecting with respect and love for each other, works. Re-connecting with respect and love for yourself, works.

Sometimes SOC is complete in itself. More often, it is a foundation. I also work a great deal, of course, with communication – both what needs to be said, and how you say it. I do a lot of what I term “brokered communication”,Then helping each person to say what they need to say, and making sure they are understood. Sometimes that’s a matter of going gently, gently towards deep and vulnerable self-revelation. Sometimes its a matter of practicalities – just say one thing at a time, minimise saying “you”, make sure you’ve understood before you respond.

Then there is self-love. 

Always, always, the foundation of love for another person is loving yourself. When we don’t love ourselves, then we feel a need to protect the parts that we imagine are unlovable. And, your partner does the same. Your ancient patterns of protection meet your partner’s ancient patterns of protection. The result is a tangled cycle of hurt, misplaced protection and retaliation. This is like a climbing weed that takes over a garden. It strangles the flowers of intimacy, tenderness, and delicate opening to love. It equally undermines the strong roots of assertiveness, clear honesty and loving powerfulness. Again, always, the key to healing is to feel very safe and respected as you explore how you feel.

Most often the first we are aware of these old patterns, is when our partner just does not do what we expect them to do. So relationships, even with all the turmoil, are a wonderful opportunity for healing and learning about ourselves.

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 a half-hour initial meeting. I love meeting people, you are indeed welcome.  Meanwhile, read down this page and you’ll find questions couples commonly ask me.

How does Solution-Oriented Therapy/Coaching differ from traditional counselling?
Does solution-oriented coaching deal with shadow and projection?
What happens in the first session?
Do you only do Solution-Oriented Therapy/Coaching?
Can every relationship be saved?
Isn’t coaching for normal couples weird? Shouldn’t we wait until things get worse?
Do I need couples or individual counselling?
Will either of us be criticised or fixed?
How many sessions?
Do we have to commit to a number of sessions? Is it easy to end?
Costs, and the time between sessions
Appointment hours

Here is the index page to all my relationship posts, including the “watch films and grow closer” exercise and some exercises.


How is Solution-Oriented Therapy/Coaching different from traditional counselling?

In traditional marriage therapy and counselling you talk (sometimes talk and talk and talk) about the past, about weaknesses, problems, and analysing what are doing wrong. SOBT focusses on strengths and inner treasures.  It leverages the skills and  resources you and your partner already have and can use today to make immediate steps towards understanding and respect … and from there back to passion and delight with each other.
SOBT is solidly research validated. A quantitative review (Gingerich and Peterson 2013) concluded “there is strong evidence that SFBT is an effective treatment for a wide variety of behavioural and psychological outcomes … [it is ] briefer and less costly than alternative approaches.”
I’ve seen this powerful, respectful, tailored-to-you approach changes lives many, many times.

As explained elsewhere on this page, it’s by no means all I do.

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Do you deal with shadow, projection and inner child issues?

Yes indeed. But perhaps, in individual sessions, not couples sessions.

Adult relationships can at times produce powerful and painful emotions. But, actually, adults can deal with  adult emotions even if powerful and painful. If emotions feel overwhelming or impossible to ever change, then they are childhood emotions. These feelings are triggered by your partner, but are not caused by them. It may be easier to look at these things on your own.

I call my approach to  “inner treasures therapy” – loving yourself, believing in yourself, finding in the relationship ways to love yourself more, not less. I deal with shadow and projection in this wider context of self-love and self-belief. With inner child issues, it’s often really useful if each partner has a session just on their own, to look at what they bring into the relationship.

There are two realms in couples work. One is present-time actions and communication. For example, it makes a big, big difference if both people talk without blame, don’t shout, make sure to have fun, pay compliments. The deeper realm is childhood hurt and the distorted realities around love which that hurt creates. Opening to love with your partner opens up that ancient vulnerability. You love the other person, but you’re afraid or angry as well. What works is to love yourself and respect yourself and so emerge from the old hurts. The absolute miraculous magic of relationships is when both partners create opportunities for the other person to love themselves more. The key to starting to do this, is a therapeutic atmosphere which is very, very safe and respectful as people begin to look into themselves.

[What do “shadow” and “projection” mean? – Briefly, “shadow” is characteristics in ourselves which we fear or dislike. These can be things we deem negative – weakness, anger, need,  vulnerability. But they are can also be resources which we find scary to own – strength, aspects of sexuality. ]And indeed, looked at rightly, need and vulnerability are also resources.] Typically this is unconscious: at first we have zero awareness that this dis-owning is going on. Since we can’t own them as part of ourselves, we “project” and see them in others, and particularly in our partner.  In the final analysis, withdrawing projection and owning shadow starts with respecting yourself, believing in yourself, accepting yourself, loving yourself.]

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What happens in the first session?

Relationships can be fraught with powerful emotions. I want as much as possible to avoid blame, recrimination, raking over the past, and fixing on one person as “bad”. Therapy needs to be a haven for both parties.

I can’t predict in advance your first session. But a couple of things are common.

One is a purely solution-oriented start. I like to focus primarily on what is good in you, good in your partner, and good about the relationship. I focus on what you do well, on times when the problem is less or absent, on what is working or can work rather than what is not. This is what creates safety. And … the air starts to clear.

The other pattern is what I term “brokered understanding” where one person speaks and I help them to be understood, then the other person speaks and I help them to be understood, as described above. If we start like this, then we move on to solution-oriented steps later on. I always want the work to have a clear practical real-life carry-over.

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Do do other things than Solution-Oriented Therapy/Coaching?

Yes. On my own personal journey over 35 years I’ve had a wide experience of the world of therapy and radical meditation. I know the solution-oriented approach incorporates a ton of good things, and I also know it has real limitations. I use lots of approaches. They all based in loving yourself and bring the strengths, resources and inner treasures of you and your partner to the front. I do, though, start with the most simple and direct things.

One thing I do once we’ve got the solution-oriented basics going well is family constellation exercises in various forms. For example, we might make a picture of the relationship with markers on a table. As a simplified example, each person might have a marker for “The part of myself that I love” and “The part of myself that I don’t love”. Then each person places those two parts on their half of the table, facing the two parts which the other person places on their half. You get an illuminating visual picture of the inner dynamics of the relationship.

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Can every relationship be saved?

No. And nor should they be.  Good relationships may end naturally. Bad relationships are best escaped from.

But relationships embody a significant investment of each person’s life. I do not believe that investment should be let go of casually or without good cause.  If both partners have the determination to explore constructive steps, that’s in itself a sign the relationship has life.

Healing work is never wasted. It’s valuable have a haven of safety to learn about yourself and to find clarity. It’s valuable to part with compassion and closure. It’s valuable to feel good about yourself despite events, indeed to love yourself more deeply and respect yourself more fully as a result. If you are parents or business partners, it is valuable to move towards communicating with respect and tolerance. And if necessary, to part as friends.

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Isn’t coaching for normal couples weird? Shouldn’t we wait until things get worse?

No and No. From the bottom of my heart,  do not wait until things are worse. With relationships, a stitch in time saves nine. Take action at the first opportunity – now. If your partner won’t come, come on your own. Even if there’s only one of you, still a lot can be done – sometimes more than if both people come.

I agree wholeheartedly with this 2015 interview with Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard.

Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard say the key to their happy marriage is bringing in a professional. Both actors — who married in 2013 — praised their decision to participate in couples therapy as a way of preventing problems before they become an issue in their marriage. “I noticed an actor and her husband on [a recent cover of a celebrity tabloid] that said In Couples’ Therapy! The clear message is, ‘Oh, their marriage is ending.’ There’s such a negative connotation,” Shepard told Good Housekeeping. “In my previous relationship, we went to couples’ therapy at the end, and that’s often too late. You can’t go after nine years and start figuring out what patterns you’re in.”

With individuals, a crisis can be a good thing, because then people are motivated to take giant steps. With relationships, it’s the opposite. The buildup of pain can hurt love, can kill love. As one human being to another, I repeat: don’t wait for things to get worse. Don’t wait for them to get better on their own. Together or on your own, make that stitch in time.

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Do I need couples or individual counselling for my relationship problem?

I am optimistic that constructive relationship counselling can help love to flow.  But that does require that both partners are willing and able to at least start to turn towards constructive steps.

Imagine that you both go on a car journey and you run out of fuel. And suppose there is a big row, in the cold rain miles from nowhere. At some point, you have to stop rowing and start doing something constructive to make the situation better. If you both are willing at the minimum to see that there has to come a point to stop hating and start sorting things out, then counselling can be of use.

If however the hurt and outrage is so overwhelming that one or both parties just want to land a punch over and over – to make their partner really feel how hurt they are – then probably individual counselling is better.

It’s natural that one or both parties wants to land a punch. The problem is when that is all that they want to do. Remember, the big solution-oriented question is “What works?” If landing a punch over and over actually works, fine, carry on punching. But I never have seen it work. Counselling means building a bridge towards some kind of common ground, even if that common ground is an amicable separation. Both parties need to be able to look for a constructive future they both want. Both parties need to work on building a bridge toward that common ground.

To put it very simply, you both need to try.

You both need to be able to stop blaming  the other person for running out of fuel, and start to discuss practical steps to fix things.

From another perspective, it’s like this. Adult relationships can at times produce powerful and painful emotions. But, actually, adults can deal with even powerful and painful adult emotions. If emotions feel overwhelming or impossible to ever change, then they are childhood emotions. It is better by far to deal with childhood emotions in individual therapy. Likewise if people have lost their individuality in the relationship, this is better worked out in individual sessions.

If only one person comes, or you both go to individual counsellors, it doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on the relationship. Individual counselling can do a lot of good for a relationship, sometimes far more than if both partners come together.

Will either of us be criticised or fixed?

Relationship counselling is not taking sides or adjudicating fault. This is practical, future-oriented healing work to connect with the depths of your positive feelings for yourselves and for each other; to identify and step out of hurt scripts around loving; and find the way forward that works for you individually and together.

Hurtful actions certainly do have to be communicated, addressed and made right. But that has to happen in a constructive framework that allows rehabilitation even for someone who has in fact done something “bad”. It never helps to berate one person as The Baddie and make the other person The Good One.

To avoid doubt: In situations of emotional, physical or sexual abuse I, and any therapist, would of course say “This behaviour is harmful and you must stop.” But this is not a critical “You are a wicked, stupid person, and you must stop.”

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How many sessions?

I assume that people will come for a burst of sessions, maybe five to ten or so, perhaps more, as opposed to setting in for long-term year-after-year therapy. You should get a clear sense from the first two or three sessions whether it is productive.

There is no fixed commitment. You come as long as it is useful.

Are we committed to a number of sessions? Is it easy to end the work?

I am flexible. There is no fixed number of sessions or fixed time. Starting from the first session, I ask regular feedback questions about how the work is going, so we are all clear what is useful. You can end at any time you like, after as many or as few sessions as you like.

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Costs, and the time between sessions

The first session is two hours and the cost is £120. Subsequent sessions are 1.5 hours which is £90.00 ( ie pro rata.) These times are based on long experience of what works best, so I do not offer shorter appointments. There is also a refundable missed appointment/late change deposit of £25.

The time between meetings is however up to you. Most couples choose two or three weeks. More, or less, is possible though in the beginning I would not advise longer.

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Appointment hours

  • Within the range Monday to Friday, 10:30 am to 9:00 pm.

Appointments can be at different times. You do not have to keep to a fixed time slot for each visit.

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  • Breakthrough sessions – explanation and fees - An intensive session, often called a breakthrough session, is an extended-length session, normally between 5 and 8 hours (with breaks!), designed to make a real breakthrough in a concentrated time.
  • Issues for marriage counselling in Bristol - Love-oriented relationship work helps if you're fighting, there’s been a affair, communication goes round in circles, or you are stuck. Or, if you are single, with a repeating pattern or relating, or sexual issues.