We Can't Afford Couples Therapy - Help!

There are a great many people who would like & benefit from one-to-one & couples counselling, therapy or events but simply cannot afford to pay the financial costs. 
There are many who would, I imagine, love nothing more than to experience themselves differently, to free themselves, for example, from sexual shame by attending retreats & courses but there are bills to pay & children to take care of. 

I will wholeheartedly support someone paying for the roof over their head, the clothes on their back, the food in their belly & all other of life's essentials for themselves & those they are responsible for before spending money on anything outside that, while certainly life-enhancing, is not essential. For example, I have said ''no'' to working with some clients over the years because I knew that working with me was stretching their financial budget too far & that felt unethical.

''Come back when the basic needs of life are taken care of, pour those resources into securing your basic needs, then we can talk about how to enhance, strengthen & enjoy that.''

The fact is that couple's therapy or coaching is expensive, practitioners or therapists can charge €100s per session & if, like me, a therapist recommends a minimum of 8-10 sessions it's a significant investment both in terms of time & money. That said, our intimate relationships are likely the most important of our lives & so that investment is, most definitely, warranted. However if you're struggling to pay the rent or mortgage then get some budgeting counselling first then see a couples therapist. Equally, walk quickly away from a 'practitioner' who is encouraging you to spend money beyond your means, this person is valuing something else more than your financial safety & security. I have, unfortunately, seen this from several groups & individuals who offer work in the area of relationships & sexuality.

There is an abundance of robust psychology data that tells us that it is only when our basic needs of food, water, shelter etc are taken care of can we really turn our focus, usefully, to other things. If we are worried about paying the rent while sitting in a counselling session it is, frankly, a waste of time on everyone's part.

In my experience, most couples whose relationship is not happy come to counselling too late, the journey back to happiness is harder than ensuring it stays happy in the first place; the cliché is true, prevention is better than cure. However, couples come to counselling when they come, when both people are willing, ready & able & I can't make them come to me, or to another therapist, any faster! 

It's important to recognise that training to be a couples therapist takes, on average, an additional 4 years on top of initial therapy training, & can cost upwards of €20,000, depending on who the therapist trains with & who they then go to their own mandatory therapy for. The high cost of couples therapy reflects the journey the therapist has taken to know what they know & understand what they understand in order to support other people's relationships.

That said, couples therapy & counselling is unaffordable for many, however, all is not lost, there are things that a couple can do that may assist them to come to a place of calm, at least, until counselling is affordable, assuming of course that it is not an abusive relationship, in which case these recommendations don't apply.

Here are 4 of my top tips for self-help for couples who are in a difficult place with each other:

1. Read Gottman together & use the card app.
The Gottman Institute is acknowledged by many relationship therapists & counsellors worldwide to be a leading source of research & practice tools for therapists, I have trained with the Institute. They have also produced some books & an app aimed at couples who are looking to maintain a good relationship or come back from a tricky situation. One of their most recent publications is 8 Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, with 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work another publication that any couple wanting a rich, deep & satisfying relationship may find useful, whether actually married or not. The card app is available free by clicking here.  

My suggestion - read a few pages or a chapter of one of the books together once a week, maybe taking it in turns to read aloud to each other. Dedicate some time to it, schedule it in your calendar for 30 or more minutes twice a week & talk about what's contained in the book & your feelings about it after you're read a couple of pages together. 

Also, schedule in a time, again once per week, to play the card app, deciding together with set of cards you're going to play at any one time - I suggest going slowly with this & starting with the conversation based sets of cards first.

2. Take an Online Relationships Course or Workshop Together
While taking a course or workshop online is, generally, less beneficial than in-person work there can be significant benefits & advantages to it, depending on where you're at in your relationship, for example it can allow you take the course in your own time & at times & on days that suit you best & at your own pace, an in-person workshop doesn't allow you that freedom, flexibility & spaciousness.

Esther Perel offers an online workshop for couples & The Art of Intimacy for Couples, which I've beta tested with a group of couples from several different countries, will be available in 2023 through my website.

My suggestion - Search online courses & workshops, ask friends for recommendations, check out the person's qualifications & experience carefully, you don't want to waste precious time or money on someone who does not have sufficient training or expertise.

Come together to share your information, decide what it is you want to get out of the course, look at what your budget is, what the commitment required is, what you both have available in terms of time & energy & make your choice after carefully considering your options.

Make sure it's manageable, that you're not biting off more than you can chew in terms of commitment, time, money & energy. It's also important that one partner not make the decision on their own, both of you should be involved in choosing the course & therefore both taking equal responsibility for committing to take part in it. Teamwork is vital in intimate relationship - the couple that talks about ''we'' as opposed to ''I'' & ''me'' is likely to feel happier & more satisfied in their relationship.

3. Spend More/Less Time Together
It sounds obvious but I have lost count of the number of couples who come to me who aren't in a good place in the relationship who, simply, don't spend quality time together. Their time is taken up with the practicalities of life; children, home, house, work, family, animals, sports, hobbies, money etc, there's no room for the actual relationship, there's no room for them as a couple, partners or lovers; any relationship that doesn't get nurtured & nourished is likely to wither in some way.

Equally, many couples spend too much time together! Maybe they both work at home, have the same or similar interests & friends. What can often happen here is that the mystery of the other person, the  mystery of who they are, tends to diminish. We need mystery in order to feel desire for the other person, if we know everything we want to know about someone, if they are predictable to us then the desire to move closer to them, emotionally and/or physically, can diminish. 

My suggestion if you do not spend enough time together - discuss & agree to spend some time together, ideally once a week for at least an hour where you don't talk about any of the practicalities of life; no discussion of kids, animals, home life, work, money etc, make sure there are no distractions, no TV, no phones etc, you & your relationship needs to be the sole focus of your attention.
If you haven't done it in a while, maybe since before children, then it might feel awkward at first - be patient & give it time. 

Maybe take a class together, check out your local education centres for free or low-cost courses. You can also use it as time to simply talk about something that interests you, some art you saw or food you ate, an interesting article you read on social media (try to stay away from topics you know are controversial between you) - the key here is to keep it as personal to you as possible, it's not about anything that needs to be done, to be fixed or to be taken care of or a family 'to do' list, it's just about connecting with each other. Simply that. 

Try getting out of the house for it, maybe going for a walk or to a coffee shop for tea & a slice of cake, asking a friend or family member to babysit, if you have children, for even just one hour so you can have that space & time just for the two of you. Make it a weekly practice.

My suggestion if you spend too much time together - seek out ways to live your own life in your own way on your own terms. This might be through sports, exercise or other physical activity, it might be through dancing or music, it might simply be through spending time with friends or family, maybe going on dates alone with yourself! Ultimately, the goal here is to cultivate a life for yourself away from & separate to the relationship, a life that means you have stories to tell & information to share when you come back together again.

4. Touch Each Other
It's amazing how a lack of touch can effect us, deeply, & it's amazing how lack of touch can, over time, become the norm in a once tactile & passionate relationship. We're mammals & as such touch is a huge part of how we communicate & connect, or not, with each other.

Often sex becomes a 'touchy subject' (bad pun intended) in a tense & stressed relationship & all touch then can become heavy with the hope, expectation or indeed fear of it turning into sex. So, the key here is to touch each other but in a way that is non-sexual but also in a way you don't touch others, in a way that is special to your relationship in order to remind you both that you are 'together' & uniquely connected.

My suggestion - it doesn't need to be anything big, complicated or a grand gesture, it can be something as simple as reaching out a hand while sitting on the couch watching TV, simply sitting closer together so your thighs are touching, or maybe gently placing a hand on your partner's shoulder while you're standing talking to each other or someone else. If you're concerned that it might be taken as an invitation to sexual contact, & that's not what you want, then you can do it in a public place - though it would be best, of course, if you could talk openly about wanting physical connection that doesn't need to lead to sex, and I appreciate this can feel difficult for many people.

Reaching out to touch or be touched is a bid for connection, a way to say ''I would love us to connect'' or ''I miss you'' & so it's important to be mindful of that when our partner reaches out, to be respectful of ourselves & our own desires & wishes while at the same time mindful of keeping the connection with our partner alive, even when the relationship itself may be feeling challenging & difficult.

Written 4th December 2019 last updated 13/10/22