Marriage and Couples Counselling and Relationship Therapy in Vancouver, BC

couples counselling vancouver

Marriage and Couples Counselling Vancouver

Couples come for relationship and marital counselling because they are experiencing emotion-based problems such as poor communication, conflict, separation, affairs, lack of trust and intimacy, and sexual issues. Whether they are married or common-law, as a psychologist and relationship therapist with many years of experience as a marriage counsellor (relationship counsellor), I derive immense satisfaction from helping people resolve these issues. Although I work generally with both partners together, I also assist the partner or spouse who wants to sort out his or her ambivalence about the marriage or wishes to come alone for other reasons. In addition to working with couples who wish to rebuild their relationship or marriage, I also offer pre marriage and divorce counselling to people residing in the Metro Vancouver area.

Vancouver Relationship Therapy – Intrusive Feelings Underlie Problems in Relationships

What underlie these emotion-based problems are intrusive feelings of fear, emotional pain, and shame (see the article) that are triggered most strongly in close relationships. These emotions are experienced originally when we are in the first few years of life in relation to our primary love object, our mothers (see the article, What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us). As we seek to meet our legitimate dependency needs for love and security through our new love object, the partner, these are triggered again and we experience distress. We make the mistake of blaming our partner our spouse for our distressing fear, shame, and emotional pain, and conflict ensues. Unfortunately, the ensuing conflict compounds our distress.

Conflict in relationships occurs on two dimensions of interaction: the affiliation dimension and the influence dimension. The affiliation dimension refers to how to navigate closeness and distance, often with one partner pursuing for emotional contact when the feeling of anxiety and pain are triggered and the other distancing when these are triggered. The influence dimension refers to how couples share influence, often with one partner being more dominant (the dominant partner tends to define reality for both) and the other more submissive. The more dominant partner tends to become controlling when anxiety and shame are triggered, whereas the more submissive partner tends to become compliant or passive-aggressive. Although generally distressed couples experience conflict on both dimensions of interaction, often they experience more conflict on one dimension than the other.

Couples Therapy

In couples therapy (relationship therapy), I help partners understand how, although they trigger each resulting in conflict, they are not the cause of each other’s feelings (see the article). Rather than avoiding their intrusive feelings of fear, shame and emotional pain by blaming and trying to change the partner, I encourage them to take responsibility for their own emotions. This involves learning to bring our presence to our own feelings with a wise, compassionate attitude, and soothing our own feelings (see the article). This also involves learning to reveal our feelings responsibly to our partner and listening with compassion to our partner’s disclosure of feelings.

As partners learn to take responsibility for their own feelings rather than avoiding these feelings by trying to change and control the partner, new interactions are created. The pursue-distance conflict cycle gives way to tolerating closer, more loving interactions. The dominant-submissive conflict cycle gives way to each partner having a voice and feeling respected. These changes in interaction result in increased communication, connection, and intimacy. If you live in the Vancouver area and would like to make a couples counselling appointment to improve the quality of your relationship please contact me.

Marriage Counselling Vancouver – Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT)

The approach of marriage counselling in Vancouver is rooted in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT). EFT is the most empirically validated approach to partners therapy. I was fortunate to be trained in this approach by its primary originator, Dr. Leslie Greenberg, and to conduct an outcome study for my doctoral dissertation in the mid to late 1980s. Since then, I have integrated elements from other therapeutic approaches such as Voice Therapy and Imago Therapy. Most recently, I have integrated Dr. Geoffrey Carr’s theory of intrusive feelings and model of responsible communication. For a detailed description of the approach to EFT used by relationship counselling Vancouver, including a Clinical Case Study that illustrates this.

“In our opinion, love is the one force that is capable of easing existential despair and the endemic pain of the human condition. We feel that to develop emotionally, as well as spiritually, one needs to learn how to love, to continue to search for love throughout life, and to remain positive, not become cynical or despairing when love fails.” – Robert Firestone and Joyce Catlet.

Dr. Paul James is a couples and sex therapist in Vancouver. For more information about my marriage, couples counselling and relationship therapy you can contact 604-873-0222 or