Ben Schuster

Couples Counseling

Admitting you have a problem and getting help is difficult. But being happy in an unhealthy relationship is impossible.

Most couples wait too long to get help. There seems to be some hope that if you wait long enough the problems will get better or go away by themselves. 

Unfortunately they don’t. 

Instead they usually get worse one little disappointment at a time without either partner realising the connection has been lost until something dramatic happens – a major crisis such as an affair, the desire to seperate or just feeling stuck in a “dead” relationship.

Negative relationship dynamic

The problem is that almost every couple gets stuck in a negative cycle, a dynamic that seems to take over the relationship – where both people feel the other person is the problem, or just doesn’t get them or worse doesn’t even care. And slowly but surely the feeling of connection disapears and you feel more and more alone, misunderstood and not loved.

Negative relationship patterns: Where is your relationship stuck?

All couples have conflicts. While the topics are unique, often underlying these conflicts is a negative dynamic, that leads to a loss of connection and the feeling that the other person is the problem, or no longer cares.

Pattern 1: The Blame Game Or Attack / Attack

Symptom: You constantly argue and every little thing turns into a big discussion

Typical conversation

“You never help around the house. I’m sick of cleaning up after you and having to do everything.”

“Me. You never see what I do. You don’t appreciate how much I work. If I didn’t earn the money, then you wouldn’t even have a house to clean!” 

“You have no idea how much work it is with the kids every day”. 

“And you have no idea how…”

Where it ends…

This pattern is exhausting, the contstant blaming and attacking mean that you are on edge or careful even when you are not fighting. 

After time, one person usually withdraws which leads to the second negative pattern.

Pattern 2: Criticise / defend - or demand / withdraw

Symptom: You both feel misunderstood, and neither saying something or not saying something seems to work.

Typical statements

“The problem in our relationship is that he never communicates. It doesn’t seem to matter what I say, or even how I say it, I just get no response.” 

“She always criticises me. It doesn’t matter what I do, if I say something or if I don’t say anything it’s never right. It’s never good enough. The problem is that she is impossible to please and is always so emotional.”

“I feel alone. Like we are living next to each other. I try to get him to respond to me. But even when he is talking to me I don’t feel like he’s really there.”

“She is so emotional. The smallest thing and she explodes. I just shut down and leave. Hoping that she will calm down at some stage.”

Where it ends…

If this pattern continues for long enough, at some point the demanding partner usually gives up which leads us to the third negative pattern.

Pattern 3: Withdraw / withdraw or the ice age

Symptom: You feel like you share a house but are not in a relationship.  There is not a lot of conflict, like you know each other well – couples often make sarcastic jokes about this – but on the inside both have given up trying to connect. 

Typical statements

“I used to try and initiate sex. But it’s too hard to be constantly rejected. I’ve given up on that now. Maybe this is what happens in longer term relationships. You just end up living next to each other.” 

“It’s not that I wasn’t interested in sex. It’s just with the kids, and work and the cooking that I am constantly exhausted. We never have time. It feels like we are strangers living in the same house. He never looks at me in that way anymore. I feel like a mother, but not a wife.” 

Where it ends…

This can go on for years and years, and is fertile ground for an affair or a sudden separation when one person realises they want something else. 

Often it is men who are surprised when their partners suddenly leave, as there wasn’t any conflict, everything seemed “fine”, 

Getting your relationship back on track

The focus of couples counselling is to help you recognise and exit this negative dynamic, to get better at dealing with your relationship triggers and learning to reconnect with each other – even when you disagree on difficult topics.

Neither of you is crazy – even if it seems that way at times – your emotional reactions are interrelated and make perfect sense from an attachment and bonding perspective.

The science of attachment thoery says that when our connection to the people we are closest to is threatened, we get distressed and we either attack/demand to re-esatablish the connection or we withdraw to protect ourselves.

This is “normal” attachment behaviour and why so many couples get stuck. 

The good news is – this dynamic can be changed for the long term – and this isn’t just marketing talk – with 100s of studies confirming that emotionally focused couples counseling is one of the few forms of couples counseling that leads to lasting positive changes.  

Phase 1: De-esclate conflict

You will learn to break the negative cycle of conflict, recognize triggers quickly, what role you play in this cycle, and how to calm yourself and regain your sense of self and center within the relationship.

By the end of this phase, you will feel that your relationship problems make sense and that there is a way forward, and that you are both on the same side and no longer against each other.

Phase 2: Deepen the connection

As safety returns to the relationship - we start to explore deeper hurts and issues that stand between you as a couple and to heal those wounds and deepen your connection.

At the end of this stage - you will feel more deeply connected, trust has returned and the major wounds of your relationship will now feel manageable, and you will no longer feel alone with them.

Phase 3: Consolidation and moving forward

Integrating the new ways of relating to each other into your day to day life. Creating a vision for your future and re-approaching difficult decisions from a new base of connection and emotional stability.

Common Questions

Emotionally focused couples counseling is based on attachment theory. Attachment theory says that we need strong relationships to other people to feel safe, loved and happy and that when these bonds to others are threatened that we get stressed and react in strange ways – usually we try and get the bond back by demanding, or we go into withdrawal. Couples counseling helps you to better understand and manage these stress patterns and to re-establish a healthy bond to each other. When a bond is strong – couples can have very intense discussions over difficult topics, or spend their time doing their own thing. Both partners feel safe and loved in the relationship. 

A typical couples counseling session is 80-90 minutes long.

Some private health insurances cover couples counseling. Most do not. Please consult with your insurance provider. 

A good rhythm for couples counselling is a session every 2 weeks. At the start of counseling, sessions are often weekly until the conflict is descalated. At later stages in counseling the period can also be longer, sometimes every 3-4 weeks, or based on the needs / wishes of the couple. 

The terms are generally used interchangably, depending on the qualifications of the counselor/therapist. In practice what makes a much bigger difference is the type of counseling / therapy being offered, the level of training and experience and ultimately if you feel the therapist / counselor is a good match for both of you. 

I offer a no risk first session – to get to know each other and see if we are a good fit – if you don’t wish to continue you don’t pay for the session.

There are many topics which are difficult to discuss in relationships – as we often experience strong emotions around important decisions or where we have different opinions. 

Emotionally focused couples counseling helps to have such conversations, by going deeper to what it is that makes such topics difficult, and helping you to connect emotionally, even if you disagree on a topic. In my experience it is never the difference of opinion that is the problem, but rather whether we feel seen and understood in our differences.

Please see contact and fees page.

The best way to see if someone is right for you is to take a first session. If you feel understood (not judged or made wrong!!), and that the counselor understands the negative relationship dynamic and has a plan for how to help you move forward – then chances are good that the counselor is a good match. Of course it is important that both partners feels this way for counseling to be successful.  

I offer a risk free first session – if you don’t wish to continue you don’t pay for the first session.

There is no standard answer, as it really depends on your unique situation. You can expect anywhere from 5-30 sessions depending on what your relationship goals and history are and how quickly you are able to integrate new ways of relating to each other emotionally.  

My practice is in Innsbruck. Please see my contact page for details. I also offer online counseling. 

Please call me or request a call on the Contact page.