Couples Counseling

People often contact me looking for marriage advice: “Can my relationship be saved?” or “Can you help us decide if we should stay together?” While these are complicated questions, my answer is usually something like: “Couples counseling is hard work and there are no guarantees. But you are wise to invest the time to find out if your marriage can be improved.”

Every couple goes through highs and lows in their relationships, from small-scale scenarios to larger issues overshadowing each facet of the relationship. Research suggests that approximately 70 percent of arguments between couples go unresolved. This could mean that the same patterns and causes are at play leading to the same results. Couples often seek couples counseling when these problems and arguments begin to interfere with daily functioning. They might also seek couples counseling when partners are unsure about continuing the relationship.

BENEFITS OF COUPLES COUNSELING

Some couples enter into therapy because they may want to develop better communication skills or enhance intimacy. They may also want to learn to navigate new terrain in their lives. While therapy may not help everyone in every situation, many couples with whom I have worked have expressed the following benefits:

  • During therapy sessions and afterward, couples express higher levels of relationship satisfaction and overall happiness. Many couples report they have learned resources they needed to make more effective decisions about their relationships.
  • When couples attend joint sessions, it could take few sessions to resolve issues. Attempting to solve issues yourselves takes more time and remains troubled by subjectivity and intensified emotions.
  • Couples counseling provides “neutral territory” to help couples agree upon and work through tough issues with support. If toxic relationship patterns can be identified the process of change can begin. A motivated couple can begin to explore their problems from a new perspective. They can also learn new ways to recognize and resolve conflicts.
  • Couples can begin to build trust and improve communication that may have eroded the quality of their interactions. Couples can rebuild their relationship and make a renewed commitment. Therapy provides a relaxed atmosphere where you can spend time with your partner on a regular basis to communicate about your desires and objectives.
  • Couples therapy can be helpful by establishing an open-ended dialogue and learning healthy conflict resolution skills. Couples learn how to avoid threats and to take responsibility for their part in interpersonal problems while individuals learn to check out what’s going on inside themselves and to pause and reflect before acting out.

KEY CONSIDERATIONS

Many factors can impact the success or failure of couple’s therapy. Understanding these factors is important to determine whether seeking therapy is best for you and your relationship. In my experience, for therapy to work both individuals must be committed to improving their relationship while looking inwardly at their own strengths and weaknesses. Knowing the traits and habits that make their partner tick could have a positive effect on making personal and relationship changes. Couples therapy isn’t meant for one partner to unload anger, resentment and other damaging behaviors toward his or her partner. It’s about unlocking solutions based on love and dedication.

Timing is an important element with regard to the efficacy of couples counseling. Most couples wait too long to reach out for help repairing their marriage. According to relationship and marriage expert Dr. John Gottman, couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy before getting help. Think about this statistic. Couples have six years to build up resentment before they typically begin the work of learning to effectively resolve differences.

Another predictor of success in relationship therapy is how you and your partner look at therapeutic techniques and exercises. If one or both scoff at the idea or appear bored and distant during therapy sessions, then therapy will likely not work. For couples counseling to be effective,  partners need to be willing to take responsibility for their part in the problems. They need to accept each other’s faults and to be motivated to repair the relationship. Each partner should commit to the counseling process for the duration of time it continues. They should also demonstrate honesty, an interest in doing relationship work, and a willingness to accept personal accountability. Ultimately, the effectiveness of couple’s therapy is directly related to the motivation level of both partners.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A COUPLES AND MARRIAGE THERAPIST

competent relationship therapist looks at the ins and out of the couple’s relationship and gives both partners insight into their shared strengths and weaknesses, as well as their individual ones. The therapist acts as a neutral mediator and gives advice to both partners. He may promote more two-way communication, create more positive ways of interacting and thinking and different ways the couple can show their love and support for each other. Willingness to do homework outside of sessions is important. A competent therapist will help you not just put Band-Aid fixes on problems. They will provide long-lasting solutions that will aid in your decision-making process, no matter the outcome of the relationship. Success in relationships depends in large part on individual wellbeing. This means that oftentimes couples counseling includes a focus on individual development in addition to co-growth.

Consider it a warning sign when counselors appear to take sides or make blanket recommends such as promoting that the relationship end or, alternatively, that couples stay together no matter what the circumstance and dynamic. Instead, good counselors should allow the therapy process to unfold naturally without a predetermined goal of “saving” the relationship. Competent therapists help partners by supporting the goals set by the couple. They help each partner to communicate his or her needs, thoughts, and emotions more clearly. They also help each partner listen to the other partner more carefully.

It’s important to choose a therapist who has experience working with couples and who is a good fit for both you and your partner. If both partners don’t feel comfortable with the therapist, this can negatively impact progress; or one person may prematurely drop out. Elements of Healthy and Ethical Therapy details what a healthy therapeutic process looks like.

COUPLES COUNSELING TECHNIQUES

Many relationship therapists center their practices and sessions on improved communication. Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is one effective technique. The International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy defines EFT as a “structured therapeutic approach developed alongside the science on adult attachment and bonding.” EFT works to help couples assess and reorganize their emotional responses, interactions, and bonds. The technique outlines interventions and plans to help couples move forward. I frequently use EFT in my practice with clients. Other techniques I use include the Gottman Method, Narrative Therapy, Communication Analysis, Unconscious Roots of Problems Exploration, Positive Psychology and Imago Relationship Therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an evidenced-based methodology I have also found to be quite effective in helping couples enrich their relationship by making personal changes to their way of thinking and consequently modifying their behavior toward their partner.

In addition to these couples-based methodologies, many partners address their relationship problems through individual therapy. They then apply that learning in context with their relationship. If your partner refuses to go to a therapy session with you, you may consider going to individual therapy to sort out issues. This can help you learn healthy coping mechanisms and solutions that work for you. Family therapy can benefit families whose children are affected by the tension in their parents’ relationship. It can also be a good idea to begin premarital counseling if you are engaged or thinking about marriage.

ON THE BRINK

It’s an oft-repeated statistic that 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce. This number has remained unchanged for the past 30 years. While I wish therapy can be helpful no matter who the couple or their situation, it’s important to note some situations in which therapy may not help:

  • When problems in the relationship are too ingrained and longstanding for counseling to be effective.
  • When one or both partners have already decided to end the marriage and he/she uses the counseling as a way to announce this to their partner.
  • When addiction or mental illness is having a major impact on the relationship and it has not been addressed prior to initiating couples therapy.
  • When verbal or physical abuse is occurring and one of the partners is fearful about their safety or well-being and does not feel comfortable participating in sessions honestly.
  • When one or both partners are unwilling to complete homework assignments necessary to reverse negative relational patterns.
  • When the therapist is not qualified due to inadequate training or credentials; or there isn’t a good fit between the therapist and the couple.

Some of these scenarios, especially those that speak to partner safety, often create significant barriers to successful couple’s therapy. I would likely advise for individual therapy first to address these complexities before relationship therapy can safely begin. I encourage you to reach out for consultation if you have questions about any of these or other examples that may apply to you.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON RELATIONSHIPS

If I have learned anything providing therapy for couples it is this: relationships require work and are bound to face challenges both large and small. Simple, everyday stressors can strain an intimate relationship, and major sources of stress may threaten the stability of the relationship. When challenges are left unaddressed, tension mounts and poor habits develop. The health and longevity of the relationship can thus be jeopardized. However, as long as each partner is willing to address the issue at hand and participate in developing a solution with a skilled therapist, most relationship problems are manageable.

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1638 Eagle View Drive
Homer, AK 99603

tim@kachemakcounseling.com
(907) 602-2578

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