Many couples experience stress with their partners that may not be resolved until they understand how their emotions and behaviors affect each other. This is where couples counseling comes in. Couples counseling is of different types and uses various techniques aimed at helping couples understand themselves better and gain a deeper insight into the causes of problems and how best to resolve them.
What is Couples Counseling?
Couples counseling or therapy is a form of psychological therapy in which a therapist, usually a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), helps two individuals involved in a romantic relationship to evaluate their relationship, identify their areas of weaknesses and areas of deficiencies in the relationship, resolve conflict, and improve the relationship.
Couples therapy is a useful therapeutic approach for persons in any kind of relationship, regardless of its status, length, and the sexual orientation of the partners. Couples therapy typically involves focusing on a singular problem and providing interventions that will promote positive behavioral changes among both parties.
It involves active participation of both parties, rather than providing therapy for each individual separately. Relationship problems that are common reasons people seek couples therapy for include infidelity, sexual difficulties, jealousy, and poor communication.
Types of Couples Counseling
There are different types of couples counseling, including premarital counseling, marriage counseling, individual counseling, family counseling, and group counseling. Each of these involves different techniques which are tailored to the specific needs of the couple.
Premarital counseling is a type of couples therapy for couples intending to get married. Premarital counseling helps a couple to build a healthy relationship, creating a stronger foundation for their marriage. Premarital counseling is also provided by LMFTs, some of whom may be affiliated with religious institutions.
Premarital counseling is aimed at helping a couple identify their areas of weaknesses to prevent these from causing problems in their marriage. This form of counseling also encourages discussions between partners about areas which can affect their marriage, such as finance, sex, values, religious beliefs, anger management, individual responsibilities in marriage, and desire to have children.
During premarital counseling, both individuals are encouraged to communicate their fears, concerns, and desires openly, and evaluate their expectations for marriage. People are influenced by their experiences and upbringing and this usually affects their behavior in a relationship. Premarital counseling helps a couple identify such behaviors and attitudes which may not match their partner’s, therefore, helping both parties better understand each other.
Marriage counseling, a type of couple’s therapy, involves providing solutions to problems involving two individuals who are married. It involves marriages of all types, regardless of the length or status of the marriage and the sexual orientation of the partners. Marriage counseling helps both parties to identify behavioral patterns or attitudes that cause conflicts, provide interventions to help resolve these conflicts, and help improve the relationship overall.
Although marriage counseling typically involves both partners participating and receiving therapy, it may involve only one partner who wishes to seek help from a therapist separately.
Other Relationship Counseling
Other types of relationship counseling include family therapy, imago relationship therapy, Gottman method, emotion-focused therapy, and group counseling.
Family therapy or family counseling is a form of marriage counseling for couples in whom the relationship problems affecting both partners extends to or involves the whole family. In this case, all the members of the family are involved in the therapy. Family therapy helps to identify relationship friction among members of the family, how these problems affect other members, and how such issues may be resolved.
Imago therapy is a type of couples therapy which seeks to identify personal weaknesses which drive people to form relationships. Imago therapy helps both partners re-evaluate their needs and expectations in a marriage, as well as to change faulty belief systems. It helps couples heal their needs without putting pressure on a reluctant partner.
Gottman method couples counseling is an approach to couples therapy which uses techniques that help a couple increase their emotional intimacy, as well as respect and appreciation for each other. It is based on a principle of helping an individual understand and acknowledge his or her partner’s emotions including worries, joys, and hopes. This will help them better understand the relationship dynamics and how they can manage conflicts.
Emotion-focused therapy is a type of couples counseling which aims to promote better emotional interactions between both partners, Emotion-focused therapy has a 90% success rate, with couples experiencing significant improvement in their relationships after the therapy.
Group counseling is an approach to couples counseling which involves more than one couple participating in a therapy session. In this type of counseling, couples learn from one another’s experiences and gain insight into their individual problems and how best they can resolve their issues. It may help couples express their concerns better and understand each other’s emotional responses and behaviors better.
When Should We Go to Couples Counseling
A lot of couples typically resort to marriage counseling when they reach an impasse, at which time it may be difficult to bring the couple back together. Problems in marriages usually grow from minor conflicts to major ones which may lead to separations or divorce. There are certain relationship patterns which call for a couple to evaluate their relationship and seek help from a marriage counsellor.
Preparing for Changes in the Relationship
Couples who are preparing for marriage or married couples who are preparing to have a child may need to seek marriage counseling. Premarital counseling prepares both partners for marriage by building their emotional interactions, helping them understand and iron-out their differences, and helping them re-evaluate their expectations.
Couples expecting a child need counseling to help them understand and prepare for the changes which may occur. For example, after childbearing, a woman experiences certain hormonal changes which may affect her mood, emotions, and behavior. Therapy before this event will help a woman and her partner deal with these changes better, In addition, the addition of a child into the family alters the dynamics in the relationship, and counseling will help a couple maintain their bond and emotional interactions while also caring for the newborn.
This is one of the commonest reasons people seek marriage counseling. Broken trust in a couple is often a result of infidelity, which may be in the form of a sexual affair or an emotional affair. Trust concerns may also take the form of jealousy, in which case an individual gets overly suspicious of his or her partner’s interactions with friends of the opposite sex, or even accuses the partner of infidelity without evidence. Lies about finances and a partner’s past may also break an individual’s trust, and these may be difficult to overcome.
When a couple has to deal with trust issues, couples counseling is necessary to help them overcome this. Couples therapy, in this situation, provides a forum where each individual can express their emotions and concerns. It also gives both partners a platform to express their vulnerabilities, understand what went wrong in cases of infidelity, and rebuild their commitment.
Minor conflicts occur occasionally in a marriage and are normal. They usually result from personality differences between both partners. However, if the day-to-day interactions of a couple is dominated by conflicts and disagreements or if conflicts never get resolved but keep recurring and worsening, a couple may need marriage counseling.
Sometimes, recurrent arguments may result from stressful events going on in a partner’s life. However, in other cases, it may indicate an unresolved underlying issue between both partners. Undergoing couples counseling will help the couple gain deeper insight into the cause of this pattern and how they can resolve it. Unresolved, conflicts usually snowball into deeper problems which may make it difficult for the couple to reconnect.
A couple may not be experiencing a major conflict, but subtle communication problems which if unattended to may lead to severe disconnect between both partners. Couples may express a lack of bonding with their partners or feeling as if they are living with a stranger. Couples counseling usually helps a couple understand their emotional states and the root of their poor communication, to equip each with tools to communicate more effectively with their partner.
Intimacy problems may involve either emotional or physical intimacy. However, it often affects both. A couple may feel that they have been growing apart and acting more like roommates than lovers. While this is often the case after spending many years together, it may occur in young couples and it is always a reason to seek couples counseling.
Some couples may also experience a change in physical intimacy, as a partner may become averse to touch, hugs, and sex with no justifiable reason. In other couples, sex becomes more like a chore or an obligation, rather than an activity that increases the bond between the partners. Problems with physical intimacy often lead to a greater lack of emotional intimacy between both partners, which may result in infidelity or separation if it is not addressed. Couples counseling will help such couples understand the problem, identify the cause, and provide them with tools to rebuild their physical intimacy.
Does Couples Therapy Actually Work
The American Psychological Association reports that couples therapy has a high success rate, with more than 75% of couples reporting positive outcomes and experiencing improvements in their relationships after undergoing emotion-focused counseling. One tool for measuring the effectiveness of couples counseling is the Dyadic Adjustment Scale, a questionnaire couples fill before and after treatment. Pre-therapy and post-therapy scores are compared and most people have been found to report resolution of their complaints and an overall better relationship with their partners after counseling.
However, couples are most likely to experience positive outcomes if they are willing to resolve the issues. Another factor that promotes a positive outcome is the ability of each partner to stop seeing each other as the problem or as the opponent in the conflict.
Challenges of Couple Counseling
Common challenges that may impair the success of a couples therapy include the following:
- Not acknowledging one’s role in the issue – Often in marriage, people put the focus on their partners as the cause of the problem. Each partners often express their innocence and how the other is responsible for the deterioration in the marriage. This may impede on the success of the therapy and may worsen the situation if each partner does not acknowledge their role in the problem.
- Withholding Information – One principle of couples counseling is honesty and openness, and keeping secrets will prevent the therapist and the other partner from gaining a deep insight into the problem, in turn, preventing resolution of the problem. For example, a partner who has engaged in emotional affair and has disconnected emotionally from their partner may be creating a bigger barrier to resolution of their emotional disconnect if he or she hides this information.
- Lack of consistency – Couples may agree to employ the behavioral and attitudinal changes recommended by their therapist. However, some couples or one partner may not follow through with these plans. Experts recommend that couples who find themselves in this situation can get through by being patient with each other and seeing resolution as teamwork.
- Wanting a Quick Fix – Some couples enter into therapy wanting an instant change in their partner’s behavior. However, for a couple therapy to be successful, both parties must acknowledge that it is a process that will take unlearning and learning certain beliefs, behavior, and skills.
Couples Counseling Online
Online counseling provides an affordable and more accessible option for therapy for couples who may not be available for face-to-face therapy. Online couples therapy is also beneficial for couples who may not be able to express themselves to a therapist. In addition, online couples counseling helps to bypass the stigma that may be associated with traditional couples therapy.
One advantage of online counseling is the ease with which couples communicate with the therapist. Couples are able to process their thoughts before typing them on their phones or computers. Some persons also better express themselves in writing than talking, and this platform may be suitable for such persons.
The cost of traditional counseling is also bypassed with online counseling. It provides a more affordable alternative, as traditional therapy is usually not covered by most health insurance plans.