New couples share many things in common and enjoy each other’s company. But as time passes, a couple’s relationship faces challenges when it comes to time management, conflict resolution, and other things. That’s when couples counseling comes into play.
Couples counseling isn’t just for partners facing relationship issues. Many happy couples see professionals regularly to maintain a satisfying and long-lasting relationship. Read this comprehensive guide to understand better the benefits, considerations, and approaches in couples counseling.
What Is Couples Counseling?
Couples counseling or couples therapy is a professional-advice counseling session for intimate partners, tackling common issues confronting their relationships. This psychotherapy helps married and unmarried couples understand and address conflicts using different tools, approaches, and techniques to improve their relationship.
Portneuf Valley Family Center and similar organizations have licensed therapists with experience and training working with couples who struggle with a broad range of difficult issues. They offer couples counseling, family counseling, and other related therapies.
Benefits Of Couples Counseling
Couples counseling brings many benefits to couples. Having a professional intervene when simple interactions become arguments is a huge help to avoid shaming, rage, and violence. Couples therapy provides the opportunity to boost shared support. One party can approach the counselor and discuss matters privately without the other finding a confidant or a shoulder to cry on without being judged.
Here are the other benefits of couples counseling:
1. Improve Communication Skills
Couples therapy can help improve communication skills, teaching partners to take turns explaining things and practicing active listening. The counselor serves as a referee or mediator, giving each party time to talk without interruption.
2. Discover The Root Problem
Many couples have long-term, unresolved conflicts. Couples counseling can help identify the root causes of major conflicts and resolve them face-to-face once and for all rather than avoiding talking about them until they worsen.
3. Understand Each Other Better
Couples counseling helps partners understand each other better because they can discuss everything that concerns them with the help of a marriage counselor. This psychotherapy can encourage better acceptance and respect of each other’s differences, time, and needs.
4. Restore Relationship Resilience
Couples counseling can help restore physical and emotional intimacy and reduce emotional avoidance and detachment. Thus, this therapy helps restore relationship strength, resilience, and loyalty.
As you can see, couples counseling can provide many benefits to intimate partners, bringing back the spark, joy, and mutual understanding.
Techniques In Couples Counseling
A healthy relationship consists of several components: trust, commitment, and love. It also involves sharing fondness, showing admiration, managing conflicts, and creating positive experiences. But some things and circumstances can ruin a healthy relationship, such as financial problems, family or peer issues, time management issues, etc.
Couples counseling approaches and strategies differ for each couple. The intervention depends on the couple’s problems, coping mechanisms, and willingness to participate in counseling sessions.
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
People facing relationship issues can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This specialized treatment facilitates change by challenging thoughts and behaviors that can harm a person’s well-being. CBT involves changing untrue, unhealthy, and unproductive thoughts to change negative feelings and behaviors.
Cognitive behavioral therapy starts with assessing a couple’s current situation, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. The therapist helps the couple identify what they appreciate about each other to understand the basis of their relationship better.
Next, the therapist helps the couple identify issues. Talking about problems, such as third-party, employment or career issues, pregnancy, and medical problems is a critical part of CBT. At this point, the couple expresses their hurt feelings and views about certain matters. The therapist helps pinpoint how the couple’s behaviors alleviate or aggravate the situation, creating a complete and accurate picture of what’s happening in the relationship.
2. Reflective Listening
Many couples tend to say things they regret stating later on because they focus on winning an argument rather than understanding each other. In a couple’s therapy session, the counselor will teach the couple how to focus on the topic of discussion and properly communicate.
Couples usually undergo reflective listening to improve their communication skills. Each partner takes turns as an active listener in a healthy and safe environment. When both sides have an opportunity to speak freely, they can express themselves and understand each other better.
The counselor asks the couple to perform different communication exercises to attain these goals. For instance, the counselor can teach a couple to rephrase statements, using ‘I’ phrases rather than ‘you’ statements, for a more positive and productive conversation.
3. Narrative Therapy
As the name implies, narrative therapy allows the couple to describe their relationship problems in a narrative form. The counselor asks the couple to rewrite their stories. The goal of this therapy is to show both partners that each has his own unique story, bringing different experiences and responses for each individual.
This counseling therapy is useful for partners who blame themselves for ruining their marriage or relationship. It makes a couple recognize that each person has a unique perspective, and therefore they must make compromises in order to understand each other better.
4. Emotion-Focused Therapy
Emotions are very powerful. They can boost or break relationships. Emotion-focused therapy can help determine destructive emotional patterns that hinder a couple’s ability to communicate and bond. This therapeutic approach focuses on identifying behaviors that can cause a huge disconnect in an intimate relationship, facilitating healing.
The three stages in emotion-focused therapy include stabilization, bond restructuring, and integration/consolidation. The stabilization stage involves identifying the couple’s feelings, conflicts, and negative interactions.
On the other hand, the restructuring phase involves understanding each other’s needs and wants, encouraging acceptance, and creating new bonds using newly learned approaches and emotions. The last stage enables couples to learn new strategies when facing relationship problems.
5. Solution-Focused Therapy
Solution-focused therapy helps couples identify specific issues that affect their relationships. This counseling therapy helps partners work on a short-term goal to resolve problems instead of leaving them unresolved and forgotten. It can help couples recognize and utilize their strengths and internal resources, working on what is already effective for them to create and live the life they’ve been dreaming of.
Many couples usually bring back old issues when they have a heated argument. Examples include past relationships, inadequacies, and lack of time and support. Solution-focused therapy ends this cycle, completely burying things in the past after they have been discussed.
6. Imago Relationship Therapy
In imago relationship therapy, the counselor can help both partners identify childhood encounters that might have affected interpersonal relationships. Some people may have trust issues that stem from being separated from their mothers early because of death or divorce. Exploring childhood trauma can help a couple show empathy to one another instead of resorting to arguments or fights.
The techniques and phases in imago relationship therapy include mirroring, validation, and empathy. Mirroring refers to repeating back what a partner says to gain understanding without criticism, response, or judgment. After repeating the statement, the person paraphrases the original words.
The validation phase involves validating the parts of what the partner has shared. Lastly, the empathy stage allows both partners to deeply understand their emotional experience through verbal expression, making each other feel heard and valued.
7. Gottman Method
The Gottman method aims to boost friendship and intimacy by improving problem-solving skills. This therapy technique is usually carried out in workshops. It addresses frequent conflicts, poor communication, and specific problems.
Many experienced therapists can perform it during therapy sessions. They help emotionally-distanced intimate partners who on the verge of marital separation. In the first stage, the counselor assesses the couple’s relationship and implements interventions to assist couples in attaining deeper understanding and connection.
The Gottman method disarms conflicting verbal communication and addresses conflicts effectively. It promotes closeness, respect, affection, and intimacy between partners. Moreover, it eliminates barriers that cause stagnation.
How To Prepare For Couples Counseling
Preparing for couples therapy is important to attaining your relationship goals. It must be a mutual decision for intimate partners.
Here are some tips to prepare for couples counseling:
1. Ensure You Both Attend Together
One partner may hesitate to ask for professional help and suggest tackling relationship issues independently. But when things get rough, and problems occur frequently, the problem requires the expertise of a professional. Show your sincerest interest in resolving your relationship problems by encouraging your partner to attend the counseling session together. Setting a note or phone reminder can help.
2. Discuss Shared Goals
Once you have convinced your partner to attend couples counseling, discuss mutual goals. Having shared goals can increase the success rate of your counseling therapy sessions. Determine your attachment and conflict styles to understand each other better. Ask each other how you want to grow as intimate partners. Having a heart-to-heart talk is important before you start therapy for it to be effective right from the start.
3. Find The Right Couples Counselor
How do you choose the best couples counselor? Most therapists have a psychology or psychiatry background. The most-sought couples’ therapists have years of experience and specialized skills using different therapies and counseling styles. You can find the right counselor by reading bios, watching introductory videos, and checking the therapist’s website. Furthermore, asking for recommendations from close friends and family can also help. Interview the therapist through a phone call or in person.
4. Make Time
Don’t miss your first appointment. Set a time for this important session to show your partner that you care about strengthening your relationship. Clear your schedule or take a leave.
Scheduling late afternoon or evening sessions is another option if you’re both too busy. You can go together with your partner or meet in one place and arrive at the clinic at the same time. Do whatever is the most convenient for you without hesitation.
5. Prepare To Share Your Story
A critical aspect of couples counseling is narrating your personal story. The therapist would want to know more about your feelings, thoughts, and memories. Explain why your relationship has turned from what was once a lovely partnership to a nightmare. Describe how your partner became your worst enemy. Moreover, you can create a journal or record your story and hand it to the therapist during the session to express your emotions and thoughts freely.
1. How Long Does Couples Counseling Last?
Couples counseling usually lasts about six months. But the length of couples counseling sessions depends on the needs of the intimate partners. Some couples can obtain what they need in four to six sessions, while others need more sessions to improve. Each counseling session is about 45 to 60 minutes.
2. Who Are Good Candidates For Marriage Counseling?
All couples are welcome to try marriage counseling, especially those with relationship problems. Consider attending couples counseling if you need to improve your communication or you feel your relationship has emotional distance, intimacy issues, or infidelity history.
3. Is Online Couples Counseling Effective?
Online therapy is just as effective as in-clinic couples counseling. It’s also more affordable and convenient for couples because they don’t have to leave home. This therapy option is suitable for busy couples and those who feel shy or have first-time hesitations.
But in-person couples therapy still has an edge when it comes to having the unique experience of talking to a therapist face-to-face. It’s a totally different experience than an online session because you can clearly see the therapist’s facial expression and your partner’s. In-clinic face-to-face counseling leaves a significant impact. In addition, there’s less chance for the partner to quit.
4. Is Couples Counseling Always Successful?
The success of couples counseling depends on the willingness of intimate partners to resolve their relationship problems. The American Psychological Association reported that about 75% of relationships are restored with the help of couples therapy sessions. Compared to those who don’t undergo counseling, partners who attend therapy live more peacefully and are happier. When you decide to attend couples counseling to improve your relationship, you have a higher chance of saving it.
Couples counseling is a helpful therapy that provides couples with a secure environment and a great opportunity to heal from the pains of relationship conflicts. Attending couples counseling can help intimate partners change negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors toward each other. They can achieve healing and recovery by doing this. So, if you’re considering undergoing couples counseling soon, choose a reputable therapist with years of experience and a full range of counseling services near you.