A Comprehensive Guide to Couples Counseling

Women's Dating

A Comprehensive Guide to Couples Counseling

Rachel Dack Rachel Dack • 10/04/16

Relationships and marriage bring enjoyment, companionship, and contentment to our lives, but they also take hard work and dedication. While all couples naturally endure inevitable challenges, and all relationships require attention and nurture, sometimes relationships go off course, creating detachment, anger, and hurt over time.

Conflict can be constructive if you are able to move toward resolution together, but nasty arguments lead to distance and resentment over time and fading love and intimacy. Although it can seem easier to sweep issues and concerns under the rug, avoiding addressing issues can actually cause significant damage and ruptures in relationships. Couples counseling (aka couples therapy, marital therapy, relationship counseling, marriage counseling) helps couples face issues and differences.

Working with a trained couples therapist or mental health professional can be particularly helpful in managing, addressing, and recovering from difficult and potential problem areas at all relationship stages. If there’s conflict in any part of your relationship, and you are unable to resolve your problems together, seeking out couples therapy is a good idea.

Couples therapy can be a powerful resource for all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, race or religion, or whether you’re dating, considering cohabitation or marriage, or are currently married. Couples in distress have much to gain from seeking support from a skilled professional and having a neutral third-party help them move toward positive change and repair roadblocks interfering with relationship health and satisfaction.

Issues Addressed | Benefits | What to Expect

15 Issues Commonly Addressed in Couples Counseling

If your passion is fading, you feel you are now roommates instead of lovers, or you are in a high-conflict relationship without a road map, couples counseling may be exactly what you need.

Below is a list of some of the issues couples commonly bring into couples counseling:

  1. Loss of intimacy and disconnection
  2. Relationship or marital discord
  3. Communication issues
  4. Family conflict
  5. Financial obstacles
  6. Parenting challenges and differences
  7. Infertility and pregnancy loss
  8. Pregnancy and adjusting to becoming new parents
  9. Cultural, racial, or religious differences
  10. Family of origin issues
  11. Sexual issues and keeping passion and intimacy alive
  12. Infidelity, trauma, loss of trust, or abuse
  13. Military deployment and reunion
  14. Boundary setting with in-laws and other family or friends
  15. Healthy work-life balance

10 Benefits of Couples Counseling

Couples counseling can offer you and your partner tremendous emotional and relationship gains and help you address any relationship roadblocks, improving the quality of your relationship.

Below is a list of the key goals and benefits of couples counseling:

  1. Improve the quality of your relationship through strength-building and healthier coping skills
  2. Identify patterns that keep you stuck
  3. Handle different styles of communicating
  4. Reduce escalation during conflict through new skills and insight
  5. Understand destructive patterns, abusive or problematic behaviors, and danger signs
  6. Gain better tools for regulating emotions, handling anger, and communicating more effectively
  7. Rebuild trust while healing and recovering from trauma
  8. Explore family dynamics and old childhood wounds affecting your relationship or attachment style
  9. Change the view of the relationship and better understand where the relationship is going
  10. Decide if you want to continue or end the relationship or marriage, and, if so, how to do so amicably. (You can read more about a specific style of counseling called Discernment Counseling here.)

What to Expect in Couples Counseling

It is natural to feel uncomfortable or scared when making the decision to start counseling. It is a new situation filled with unknowns and, therefore, can bring up vulnerabilities as you face what is really going on in your relationship. Therapy should be a safe place for difficult dialogues, and validation and empathy from your therapist.

Understanding that the counseling process may be uncomfortable or may bring up unpleasant emotions will aid you in making the most out of the experience. There is no need to feel ashamed or discouraged if a counseling session creates emotional heaviness. For example, you may leave an appointment feeling emotionally drained or fatigued or just the opposite — lighter, refreshed, calmer, or somewhere in the middle.

Photo of a couple in counseling

In some types of couples therapy, the therapist may be seen as a coach providing education, communication skills training, and conflict-resolution techniques.

The first appointment(s) generally consist of the therapist gathering background information, and a personal and relationship history through an assessment. The therapist may assess a wide range of relationship components, including communication, sex, recreation, in-laws/family, parenting, and finances. Other areas of discussion can include the level of affection, commitment to the relationship, mental health concerns, and trauma and chronic illness present in the relationship. The therapist will use the beginning of treatment to better understand what brings you and your partner to counseling and what your relationship feels like.

Depending on the situation and the therapist’s therapeutic approach, he or she may ask to speak with each partner individually, along with meeting with you as a couple. After providing an assessment, couples therapy can go in a variety of directions based on the current issues and goals of the couple. The therapist will help each partner understand his or her role in the relationship conflict and take ownership of his or her feelings, thoughts and actions. Expect to take an active role in therapy and remember to be honest and ask questions if you are unsure of where counseling is going. Giving your therapist feedback is also helpful in getting the most out of the process.

Therapy is very different from venting to or taking advice from family or friends who are invested in your relationship and may struggle to give impartial advice. While it is not the therapist’s job to save your relationship or marriage, therapists are trained to be unbiased and objective. In some types of couples therapy, the therapist may be seen as a coach providing education, communication skills training, and conflict-resolution techniques.

The Gottman Method, developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, and Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, are two fantastic resources for learning more about what to expect in the major types of couples counseling.

Does Couples Counseling Work? Yes, It Does

Yes, couples therapy does work and can serve as a reminder of why you fell in love in the first place and bring you back to a happy place. However, it is imperative to note that not all couples who receive counseling decide to stay together, and sometimes it is best to part ways. Several important factors, such as timing and motivation, play a role in how successful couples counseling is. Terry Gaspard, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, goes into more detail in an article for The Huffington Post.

In general, counseling works best when there is still investment in the relationship, when there is a willingness to take accountability and examine your own behavior (versus blame everything on your partner), and when there is motivation to participate in therapy and create active change.

Interested in couples counseling? Seek support from local religious or community groups, and check out Psychology Today to find qualified therapists in your area.

Photo sources: collider.com