What is Couples Counseling?
Also known as marriage counseling, relationship counseling, or couples therapy, couples counseling focuses on the couple as the client. It is not centered on individual issues; it is about the issues that the couple together is facing. If individual problems present in couples therapy, the therapist may choose to refer that person to individual counseling or incorporate individual therapy as part of the couple’s treatment plan.The purpose of couples counseling is to help partners learn more about each other and develop healthy problem-solving skills. The marriage counselor may interview both partners, together and/or individually, during the first few meetings to gain information about the presenting problem.
During this time, the therapist will assess safety concerns such as domestic violence and suicidal or homicidal ideation. The therapist will consult the rules of law and ethics to determine whether information shared individually should be part of the treatment plan or kept confidential.
Couples coming in for therapy generally waive their right to confidentiality with each other as they are seeking treatment as a unit. After the interview process, the couple may set therapeutic goals with the guidance of the therapist and develop a plan for therapy so each person knows what to expect. In couples therapy, positive results often depend on the couple’s motivation and dedication to the process.
Once goals are set, the active phase of treatment begins. Couples counseling is often short-term but the duration may vary depending on the couple’s progress. The therapist determines what types of therapeutic interventions are used and works in collaboration with the couple.
Sadly, often couples wait until they are ready for a divorce or things have gotten very bad before they seek relationship therapy, but it is important to seek couples counseling before it gets to this point. Your therapist will teach you vital skills that will help your relationship improve before it can get that bad if you seek treatment early.
Couples who come to treatment to prevent a divorce may need to work harder to move the relationship into a less hostile position before addressing common issues found in most marriages. Some couples whose relationships have reached a level of toxicity may need to separate while working to improve their relationship.
Most Common Issues in Couples Therapy
Infidelity could mean that a relationship partner has a physical relationship with a third party (outside of the relationship). This could have been a one-time occurrence or it could have happened multiple times, and it could include touching, kissing, or any sexual contact.
An emotional affair is when one partner grows too romantically connected to an outside party. They may or may not have a physical relationship, but they often share intimate conversations and interactions in the way couples engage.
This could lead to the two falling in soto-love, a romanticized version of love where part of the couple begins to feel connected to someone else who is providing the needs that his/her partner is not. At times, a true romance can also develop.Depending on the couple’s belief system, infidelity could also occur when one partner looks at pornography. According to Mathew 5:27-28, “You heard that it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Infidelity can rapidly end a relationship and break trust, but it is possible to recover from it with the right help. It does not have to end your relationship if both partners want to reconcile and work through it.
Divorce / Separation
Divorce and separation can have a big impact on couples, individuals, and families. If you or your spouse has decided on divorce or separation, it is wise to discuss some of your issues with a couple’s therapist before making a permanent decision.
People choose divorce or separation for a number of reasons, and unfortunately, some cannot reconcile after therapy. However, therapy can turn it around and save a relationship if both partners are willing to put in the hard work.
Many couples do not know how to effectively communicate with each other, often resulting in miscommunication that can lead to more serious problems. Partners may not have seen good communication strategies with their own parents while growing up, or they may have been taught some unhealthy tendencies from others. Good communication does not often come naturally to partners in relationships, but it is a skill that can be honed over time.
Similar to communication struggles, conflict management is often something with which couples struggle. They don’t “fight fair,” shutting the other out, yelling, calling names, cursing, blaming, bringing up past issues, not choosing forgiveness, getting defensive, and others.
Counseling can teach new skills in order to “fight fair.” A couple can learn to focus on themselves by changing their fighting style, which can reduce conflict and make disagreements less personal.
Falling out of love / Growing apartToday people equate a healthy, thriving relationship with being in love, and so when they walk through seasons (and they will) when they do not feel as “in love,” they worry that their relationship is over.
Though love is a key part of the foundation of a healthy relationship, feelings of “in love” wax and wane over time. A couple may also need to mend hurts that have occurred throughout the relationship and learn to love again.
If a couple has grown apart, it is possible to become reacquainted and start to build a new interest in one another. It is important and vital to continue to build positive moments and turn toward each other no matter what has caused distance amongst the couple, and counseling can help with this.
Major life adjustments
A job change, a move, stages in your kids’ development, loss, pregnancy/ infertility, and other types of change can cause a lot of strain on a relationship. People are able to make it through them, but sometimes counseling could help if you find that the adjustments seem to be causing stress on your relationship.
Financial stress is one of the top issues that couples argue about, so sometimes they need a third party to help walk them through financial decisions. A financial advisor is also someone who could help in a situation like this one.
When one or both partners are engaged in substance abuse, traditional couples counseling may not be as effective until they individually seek professional help to overcome their addiction.
A partner who decides to stay with a spouse or significant other may seek help through Alcoholics Anonymous and other programs that focus on treatment for the addict’s family. Addiction can cause relationships to crumble and can cause a lot of pain and stress on the family. This is not an issue to ignore.
Though couples often struggle to acknowledge sexual dissatisfaction, it is one of the biggest areas of contention in relationships. It is good and healthy to be open about the sexual health of your relationship with each other and with a counselor so that you can work to improve it.
Many couples have difficulty sharing their thoughts and feeling about sex in the relationship, but with the help and care of a professional counselor, individuals can eliminate shame learn to communicate their desires.
Sexual dissatisfaction can come from past trauma, sexual dysfunction, or a misunderstanding of your partner. It is possible to grow in this; it just takes patience, understanding of your partner’s sexual needs, and a willingness to meet those needs as best you can.
Childrearing or parenting conflicts
Some couples cannot seem to get on the same page about parenting decisions, and this can be a major source of conflict. Differences in the way each person was raised can play a huge part in this. Parenting can create a substantial amount of strain on a relationship, but it does not have to break it.
A counselor can help the couple understand the issues, problem-solve, and resolve the “solvable” issues. Learning to identify unspoken and unrealistic expectations can reduce conflict and help a couple discuss and plan the vision they have for a family.
When Should You Seek Couples Counseling?
“Any couple with a history together may benefit from relationship counseling. Couples may seek counseling to resolve relationship issues, gain insight into the dynamics of their relationship, strengthen their emotional bonds, or find amicable ways to bring their relationship to an end. – Marriage Counseling, Goodtherapy.org
Contrary to popular belief, a couple does not need to be experiencing problems to walk through couples therapy. It could be beneficial for any couple, regardless of their history and/or the present state of the relationship. If done well, it will give the couple invaluable skills to continue to build a healthy relationship that could last for a long time.
However, if you are your partner are experiencing communication or conflict issues, infidelity, talking of divorce, any of the aforementioned issues or your relationship feels stuck without a way to move forward, it would be wise to seek a good couples counselor to walk you both through it.
It is possible to come out on the other side of serious relationship struggles, but it will take a good bit of work on your part in and out of therapy. If both of you are not willing to do this work, then most likely the goals of treatment will not be met.
Both parties need to be open and committed to change in order to improve the relationship. This change usually begins with the individual you see in the mirror. The couple needs to first decide for themselves if the relationship is worth saving. The intention needs to be clear.
Common Types of Couples Therapy
- Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)
- Gottman Method Couples Therapy
- Collaborative Couples Therapy (CCT)
- Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT)
- Narrative Therapy
Finding the Right Couples Therapist
Just because someone is a licensed counselor does not mean that they are trained or skilled in couples therapy interventions. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) are well-trained and skilled, but Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) or Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) often have had training and experience in couples therapy, as well. The therapeutic relationship is just as important as the therapist’s credentials.
Christians will often seek the counsel of a pastor because they want to have therapy with someone familiar with Scripture and share the couple’s religious beliefs. It is also possible to find a therapist who is trained in couples counseling and understands biblical principles. It is important as you seek a counselor to find one whom:
- Is well-trained in effective couples therapy techniques.
- Is experienced in couples’ specific therapy.
- Will consider both persons’ point of view and will not take sides.
- Maintains control in the session.
- Charges fees that are comfortable for your family budget (although the couple making a financial investment in themselves will be well worth the sacrifice).
- Will work with both people to discuss the couple’s problems and then work with the couple to create therapy goals.
- Ensures that each party listens and respects the other in session.
- Is faith-based or spiritual in approach (if you are a Christian or other religious background).
Couples counseling will be challenging, and it will stretch you and your partner in uncomfortable ways, but if you are willing, and if you find an effective therapist, it could change your relationship in hopeful, beautiful ways. It will be one of the bravest decisions you ever make, but most likely, it will be worth it.
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