How do I know we have built a good counselling relationship?

I’ve worked with them for months, watched them argue, defend, then start to listen and understand each other.  I’ve seen them slowly turn more towards each other, to talk together, rather than just  angrily through me.  They have told each other what they really need, begun to negotiate different ways of talking and communicating… and suddenly the work is done, they are ready to take over, to ‘go it alone’.  I have got to know them and to like them.   I have thought about their problems, looked for different ways of working with them, been a mediator, a listener, a curious friend, a reflector of all that they have told me and each other; and now it’s time to let them go.

I always have mixed emotions when clients move on.  It’s a great feeling if a couple want to stay together and look as if they will make it happen now.  It’s a  privilege to help a couple separate in a way which causes the least hurt and misunderstanding for them and their family, but it’s also important to acknowledge the sadness that both are feeling, even if they know they can’t go on living together.  If we have built a good counselling relationship, I am bound to feel attached to a couple, to hope things go okay, to feel curious about ‘what happens next’.  But the counselling relationship is a professional one;  I am often a container for a couple’s emotions, I can support them to  to deal with them better, but I know the work is done when they are able to understand and contain feelings for each other, or, sadly, when they recognise their partner can’t do that for them, and their future is not together.

So if we have built a good counselling relationship, I will feel sad to see a couple move on, but hopeful that it is an ending which holds the seeds of new beginnings for them both.