Couples counseling is a type of therapy that involves people within a relationship meeting together with a counselor to work through experiences or communication issues in which they feel stuck. For some couples, counseling can be a way for them to talk about painful experiences with an objective third-party. For others, it’s a chance to improve understanding and reduce arguments. For others yet, it’s a safe space to talk about ending the relationship and the steps that would have to happen for that to take place.
While there are no guarantees about the outcome of couples counseling, its effectiveness is often tied to the motivation level of the partners and their ability to change their situation. It provides a space for the individuals in the relationship be honest with themselves and their partners, fully understand their commitment level, and openly explore values and goals. Within that space of honesty, understanding, and openness, relationship concerns can be explored with the goal of identifying disconnection and regaining connection that has been lost.
Starting Couples Counseling
According to The Gottman Institute, most couples will wait an average of six years after knowing there is an issue before seeking therapy. During that time, negative emotions and patterns of communication can become deeply established. While arguments and frustration are normal in any relationship, talking to a therapist early on can help minimize negative interactions and increase positive feelings. Making minor changes to how partners are communicating with each other can help avoid repetitive arguments, feelings of resentment and disconnection, and long-term issues that can build up to the level of a crisis. In other words, it’s helpful to think of couples counseling as a chance to do preventative care with a Primary Care Physician, rather than seeking emergency treatment at an ER.
Couples counseling can be helpful in situations commonly thought of as “couples issues” – premarital counseling, marriage counseling, therapy after infidelity or affair recovery – as well as same-sex couples counseling/LBTQ couples counseling and polyamory relationships.
Disconnection in Relationships
In exploring the need for couples counseling, trust issues are a common concern. Some questions that can uncover the feelings of mistrust.
- Do I trust that this person really has my best intentions in mind?
- Do my actions reflect that I trust them?
- What are areas that I feel a lack of security in the relationship?
- Why do I feel that the issue we argue about most often is worth talking about?
- Do I question the motives of my partner when we are discussing relational issues?
Reconnection Within the Relationship
The goals of couples counseling are to create a safe space for reconnection and to improve overall the quality of the relationship. The counselor will ask questions about the history of the relationship to find the everyday symptoms that are the source of tension. Core issues are identified, such as identifying expectations for the relationship, determining where those expectations came from, and then determining whether each of those expectations should be kept. Understanding expectations within the relationship allows partners to understand each other better, identify contrasting expectations within individuals, and builds joint expectations within the relationship. This gives the relationship the language it needs to effectively communication and succeed.