One of the best things about being a counselor is that counseling is relational. We know from the research what leads people to feel successful in therapy, and that is the quality of the relationship between therapist and client. This matters more than the age and experience of the therapist, the particular struggle of the client, the type of therapy used by the therapist, or any other potential influence on counseling. Like other types of relationships, the therapeutic relationship is one in which there is both give and take.
I think many people assume what giving and taking looks like in the therapy space; after all, we all carry expectations and assumptions about what a relationship should and shouldn't look like. Those shoulds can limit us at best, and mislead us at worst.
So, what better way to look at the concept of relationships broadly (especially in terms of committed relationships between romantic partners, within family systems, and in effective therapy) by sharing something that a client gave to me - that I now give to you!
I have a number of relationship counseling sessions on my regular books, and in working with clients, they have shared their struggles and their successes with me. One strength mentioned by many relationship units is the practice of a regular check-in between partners/family systems as a whole. In family systems, this sometimes looks like a family meeting, during which everyone in the family shares their successes and challenges, and the family is then able to both celebrate and work together to support one another (whether through developing/editing family rule systems, or otherwise). With partners, I have seen this concept be exceptionally successful through adopting the R.A.D.A.R. process (which comes to us from Multiamory.com).
R.A.D.A.R. is a system of organizing a regular check-in between partners, which is organized according to the acronym:
- Review: begin the meeting by updating each other on what has happened since the last R.A.D.A.R. It might be beneficial to take notes throughout the days between meetings to ensure that important moments are remembered. Celebrate successes! For any struggles or items on the "to do" list that weren't achieved, put them back on the list for the current R.A.D.A.R.
- Agree on the lineup/list/agenda: as a unit, decide which of the core areas/topics will come first and which can come last. The recommended list of topics are quality time, sex, health, fights/arguments, money, work/projects, travel, family (kids, parents, relatives, etc.), household, miscellaneous.
- The R.A.D.A.R. is primarily focused on the experiences/needs of people in multi-amorous relationships, meaning that they are in consensual non-monogamous relationships. As such, an additional topic for the R.A.D.A.R. would be "other partners".
- It's also worth noting that your specific relationship may have needs that aren't reflected by this list - make the R.A.D.A.R. topics work for you!
- Discuss: go through each topic, ensuring that all are touched on, even if they are currently going well.
- Action Points: create goals based on the discussion, working toward SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely).
- Re-connect: take intentional time to appreciate one another in whatever way makes sense for you. For some people, this might include physical intimacy, and for others it might be playing a game or watching something enjoyable. Be creative!
The R.A.D.A.R. structure of re-connecting in an intentional is such a powerful tool for partners, and it's easily adaptable for families, friends, and many other relationship types, so feel free to make it work for your specific situation.