Couples Counseling Overview
Most people in failing relationships never seek the help that could make all the difference.
- Most couples ignore possible help - and even those that do seek counseling tend to wait until the relationship is in deep trouble before taking action…which definitely complicates the recovery process.
Is your relationship important to you? Would you and your partner benefit from learning improved communication and conflict resolution skills? Do you wish your partner expressed more affection and appreciation? Could your relationship offer you more?
Healthy relationships take work, and sometimes even a little outside intervention. So whether your union is still perfect or you’re working to avoid divorce, you should always remember that you don’t have to muddle through on your own - you can always seek professional assistance.
Read on to find out more about why you might want to get counseling and for warning signs that indicate a serious need for it.
What Is Couples Counseling?
Couples counseling (or therapy) is also known as marriage counseling and relationship counseling – these terms can be used pretty interchangeably.
In couples counseling a trained therapist helps two people work on solving problems and conflicts they’ve been unable to get past on their own.1
How Counseling Can Help Your Relationship
A relationship therapist can’t perform magic and couples counseling won’t save all troubled relationships.
But if you and your partner are willing to try, with the help and guidance of a trained professional, there’s a good chance you’ll learn skills that improve your daily interactions and increase intimacy.
Some of the benefits of couples counseling include:
- You learn communication skills that help you talk more easily at home (less negative/destructive communication)
- You learn conflict resolution skills that let you work through disputes without so much emotional baggage
- You learn (or relearn) how to provide the positive attention your partner requires, such as physical attention, compliments, attentive listening, general affection etc.
- You learn how to express your needs to your partner in a healthy, assertive manner
- You can find acceptable-to-all solutions to relationship problems that seemed unsolvable
- You can work through painful disclosures, like infidelity
- You can learn how to negotiate in a healthy way to get what you need/want out of your relationship2
- By increasing the happiness of your romantic relationship, you can increase the well-being of children in the house (if present)
Do You Need Couples Counseling?
If you think you need or would benefit from relationship counseling then relationship counseling is right for you – there’s very little harm in trying something that might do you a whole lot of good.
Well, according to couples therapist Donna M. White, signs that indicate a need for couples therapy include:
- Any infidelity – You can salvage a relationship after an affair, but rebuilding lost trust and intimacy takes hard work – from both parties – and a good therapist can help to create space for the communication, honesty and forgiveness that’s going to be necessary.
- Habitual negative communication – Negative communication habits lead to hurt feelings, defensiveness, preemptive attacks and emotional closure – and a general downward spiral of relationship satisfaction.
- When you can both identify the problem…but you can’t find (agree on) a solution
- When you start trying to cause your partner pain of some variety – So you’ve been hurt and you want your partner to feel just as bad as you do…at the end of the day, counseling would probably help more than revenge.
- When you’re just staying in the relationship for the children
- When the only way you can seem to resolve your problems is by separating for short intervals
- When you’ve lost something and you just seem to be living together as housemates, rather than as intimates.3
How to Benefit from Relationship Counseling
There’s no point in starting couples therapy unless you’re prepared to put in the effort, do your homework and actually make some changes. To get the most out of counseling:
- Start the counseling process from a position of love and with a desire to see your relationship improve
- During sessions (and at all times, really) work hard to keep things constructive, rather than hurtful or destructive
- Be ready to accept that you are part of the problem. If you won’t look honestly at how you contribute to the problem, you won’t find a solution
- Be ready to put some serious time and effort into improving your relationship. There are no easy fixes
Also, to get the most out of couples counseling, make sure to AVOID:
- Thinking it’s all his/her fault - If you are getting couples counseling to ‘fix’ your defective partner in some way…it’s probably not going to work. A relationship takes two, the problems in a relationship come from two sides and unless both people decide to change for the sake of the relationship, it’s probably not going to work out.
- Trying to convince your therapist that you are right and reasonable and your partner is wrong and unreasonable - You are not in a courtroom and this type of therapy won’t take you anywhere you want to go.4
- Waiting too long to get started – Get counseling or don’t, but if it’s something you want to try, don’t wait until your relationship is on its very last legs and you can hardly stand to look at your partner before getting started.5
Premarital therapy helps to prepare you for life after the wedding day and can increase relationship strength and early marital satisfaction.
By going into joined life with eyes wide open you’re less likely to get blindsided by a sudden incompatibility and you’re more likely to make it through the first turbulent years of wedded life.
Some topics typically covered in premarital therapy include:
- Financial issues
- Whether or not you plan to have children and about expected parenting styles
- Division of labor and beliefs about each person’s roles in the marriage
- Sexual issues
- The roles and place of the extended family
- Dealing with conflict
- How much time to spend together
- General beliefs and value systems6
So should you get premarital counseling?
Well, it’s up to, but in addition to making a lot of intuitive sense, it’s also research backed.
- One meta analysis of 23 different research studies on the effectiveness of premarital therapy found that people who spent some time with a counselor prior to marriage had improved interpersonal and overall relationship quality measures in the short and intermediate time periods after marriage. When quantified, they determined that premarital therapy led to a 30% improvement in marital quality.7
If your relationship problems are primarily sexual in nature, you should consider sex therapy, rather than generic couples therapy.
Although the imagination can run a bit wild as to what goes on in a sex therapy session, mainstream sex therapy is all talk-based - there is no physical or sexual contact during the actual session. After discussing problems and solutions at your therapist’s office you’ll be given homework assignments to work on over the course of the week. These homework exercises tend to be physical in nature and are designed to help you feel more relaxed with sexual interactions and to improve sexual communication.
Sex therapy is a solution focused short-term type of therapy, typically lasting for between 5 and 20 hour long sessions in total.
You may find sex therapy helpful when dealing with one of more of the following issues:
- A lack of sexual desire
- Pain during sex
- An inability to get aroused
- Sexual communication problems
- Erectile dysfunction
- Ejaculatory dysfunction
- Compulsive sexuality
- Age, illness, trauma or medication based obstacles to a healthy sex life
- Problems related to past sexual abuse or trauma8
Getting Sex Therapy for Erectile Dysfunction
If you’ve ruled out physical causes of erectile dysfunction (and you still have erections in sleep) you may find the solution to your erectile problems in sex therapy – research shows that couples getting sex therapy for stress-related erectile dysfunction solve the problem between 50% and 70% of the time.9
- CAMH: Couples Therapy
- Dartmouth College: Couples Counseling
- Psych Central: 7 Reasons to Seek Marriage Counseling
- Does Couples Therapy Work
- Psychology Today: Does Couples Therapy Work?
- Mayo Clinic: Premarital Therapy
- Evaluating the Effectiveness of Premarital Prevention Programs: A Meta-Analytic Review of Outcome Research
- NYU Sex Therapy FAQ
- Cleveland Clinic: Sex Therapy
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