What is relationship counseling?
We all know romantic relationships are hard work. Like cars, they require regular maintenance to keep them running well. If there is a problem, it’s best to have it repaired right away to avoid further complications down the road.
Often, we can do some of the basic maintenance and repairs ourselves. Other times, despite our best efforts, we need to rely on a professional to take a look under the hood and give us a hand.
It is interesting how easily and quickly we take such steps to repair or prevent damage to our vehicles. But when it comes to our relationships, we often avoid acting until the situation has become much more serious.
Unfortunately, many couples try marriage counseling when a significant amount of damage has already been done. Mal-adaptive relational patterns have become entrenched, the emotional bond between partners has been severely weakened and there is a high level of resentment due to unresolved past conflicts. The list can go on.
Research indicates that the average couple is unhappy for SIX YEARS before seeking couples counseling.
This is not to say that couples’ therapy cannot be effective at resolving such long-standing problems. Nonetheless, it will be a much more challenging and time-consuming endeavor, requiring a great deal of commitment and effort from both partners.
Misunderstanding about what couples’ therapy is and its purpose can also prevent couples from seeking help early on. Some might think couples’ counseling is only meant for very serious issues affecting a relationship, such as infidelity or addiction. Others may view it as a last-ditch effort before making the decision to end the relationship.
Some think of it as a way to force their partner to change because they are “the problem.” Many people are not aware of the benefits of couples’ therapy in treating a wide variety of relational issues. They don’t know how useful it can be at improving overall relationship satisfaction and also individual mental health.
What Is Couples Therapy?
Couples therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which a therapist with clinical experience working with couples, helps two people involved in a romantic relationship gain insight into their relationship, resolve conflict and improve relationship satisfaction utilizing a variety of skills. Although the practice of couples’ therapy may vary depending on the therapist’s theoretical orientation, all couples therapy tends to involve the following general elements:
- A focus on a specific problem (i.e. sexual difficulties, Internet addiction, jealousy)
- Active participation on the part of the therapist in treating the relationship itself, rather than each individual separately.
- Solution-focused, change-oriented interventions early on in treatment.
- A clear establishment of treatment objectives.
Couples therapy will usually begin with some standard interview questions regarding the history of the relationship as well as some exploration into each partner’s family-of-origin, values and cultural background. The therapist might use the initial sessions for crisis intervention if necessary.
The couple’s therapist will then assist the couple in identifying the issue that will be the focus of treatment, establishing treatment goals and planning a structure for treatment.
During the treatment phase, the therapist will help the couple gain insight into the relational dynamics maintaining the problem, while helping both partners understand each of their roles in the dysfunctional interactions. This will help them change the way they perceive the relationship and each other.
Although gaining insight is important, another crucial aspect of couple’s therapy involves changing behaviors and ways of interacting with each other. Couples therapists will often assign partners homework to apply the skills they have learned in therapy to their day-to-day interactions.
Most couples can come away from couples therapy having gained insight into relational patterns, increased emotional expression and developed the skills necessary to communicate and problem-solve with their partners more effectively.
Who Is It For?
Couples therapy is beneficial for any kind of relationship, whether partners are straight, gay, mixed-race, young, old, dating, engaged or married.
Couples therapy can resolve a current problem, prevent an exacerbation of problems or simply provide a “check-up” for a happy couple that is experiencing a period of transition or increased stress. Common areas of concern addressed in couples therapy include issues with money, parenting, sex, infidelity, in-laws, chronic health issues, infertility, gambling, substance use, emotional distance and frequent conflict.