Losing that loving feeling? Relationship counselling could help . . .
There's no getting round the fact that relationships are challenging.
After the initial 'hearts and flowers' days of love's young dream, couples settle into lives during which their partner's good points can become overshadowed by habits and attitudes that grind away at their initial bliss.
For some, these can lead to issues and hurt that eventually cause break-ups.
More and more couples, however, are seeking help in an effort to stop matters going this far; drawing on the experience and skills of relationship counsellors such as Gunilla Thor-Finch, who helps people to build self-awareness and gain a greater understanding of their partner's feelings.
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With 42 years of marriage behind her, the Swedish-born grandmother-of-three knows all about the ups and downs that all couples experience.
"The reality is that all relationships are challenging," she says.
"My husband, Graham, and I have had our ups and downs but we have worked through them with the help of couples' counselling."
Over the years Gunilla and Graham have lived in various parts of the UK as well as Spain, Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Singapore.
Graham's work as a captain in the Merchant Navy meant he was away from home for long periods. Gunilla, meanwhile combined looking after her two children with working as a school teacher, a profession she was to follow for 30 years before being inspired to re-train as a counsellor.
"I went into therapy myself and it changed my life," she says. "I was trying to work out why I was depressed when everything in my life was good.
"We had a wonderful house and a comfortable lifestyle, but with the help of a counsellor, I realised there were unresolved issues from my childhood and it was only when I learned to overcome these that I was able to live a happier life."
Gunilla began her training while she was living in Singapore, before completing it at the Bath Centre for Psychotherapy and Counselling and gaining BACP accreditation.
"We were in therapy ourselves right through the training," says Gunilla. "For me that was really important because I know how it feels to be counselled and I know about myself."
Drawing on her training as well as her life experience, Gunilla also runs courses that help couples and individuals looking to deepen their relationships, helping them to understand themselves better and the way they behave around others.
"I don't give advice," she explains. "I help, support and challenge people so that they can find out where they want to be and what changes they need to make so that they can live a life they're content with. Life is too short for it not to be so."
With couples, Gunilla says it's helpful for both parties to be able to meet in a neutral environment – in her case a discreet and calm studio in the grounds of her home in South Woodchester – and in the presence of an impartial third party, who will allow each side to be able to speak openly and honestly about the way they feel.
"It's not rocket science," she laughs. "For couples it's often about communication – and listening to each other.
"Often it's difficult to hear our partner's feelings – we want to fix it for them – but that's not what it's all about.
"For both partners, actually being heard is a very powerful tool for a caring and nurturing relationship."
For Gunilla, counselling has become a passion and she is pleased to be in a position to help people to have better relationships and, if there really is no going back, to equip each partner with self-knowledge to put them in a better position not to make the same mistakes in the future.
"My only wish is that people would seek help sooner, when so much hurt could be avoided," she says.
"I am passionate about relationships working well because of the impact it has on people around us if it's not working well, especially children."
Gunilla's top tips for a great relationship:
1. Really listen to what your partner is saying. Only give advice if your partner asks for it!
2. The way we communicate is one of the most important factors of how relationships grow and deepen.
3. Be clear and concise about what you want to say. 'Going round the houses' means that you will lose your partner's attention before you get to what you really want to say.
4. Be honest: in the long run that is very important.
5. Relationships are about negotiating: if a particular issue is really important to you, negotiate; otherwise, let it go.
6. Take responsibility for your part, dare to be honest with yourself: blaming doesn't help any relationship.
7. Remember that 80 per cent of communication is non-verbal. Facial expressions, silences, rolling one's eyes, folding arms defensively are just four ways which say so much more than words, and are not helpful in any way.
8. During arguments, people get angry and shout, unaware that that makes it impossible for the other person to actually hear. So take time out, cool down, then return and say what you wanted to say, with a much better chance of actually being heard.
9. Try not to make assumptions, listen to what the other person is saying and then ask if it's something you haven't understood.
10. Disagreement is often taken as the other person doesn't love us. No two people are the same with the same wishes, hopes, understanding and knowledge. It's not that one is wrong – we are all different. It is how we deal with our difference that is important; empathy and understanding will help.
11. Make sure you spend time together as a couple. Everyday life can take over, especially when children come along. Without time together, it's easy for couples to lose contact with each other as partners who love and are committed to each other .