Most people have heard of relationship counseling, but very few believe it is for them.
We all want to believe our relationship is perfect, unique, and meant to last. Even if we acknowledge there is room for improvement, we often want to be able to resolve it ourselves. And it doesn’t help, either, that relationship counseling suffers from the same stigma as every form of counseling: that if you go, there must be something wrong.
For these reasons and others, Brian Doss, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami, says the average couple endures six years of unhappiness before seeking couples counseling.
But in my opinion, you don’t need to wait that long. You don’t even need to be unhappy. You just have to know what relationship counseling is, how it can help, and whether it’s for you.
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When you should consider couples counseling
“Same issues, different tactics, same results”
— that’s what I tell anyone who asks me whether they should seek couples counseling. Here is the three-step consideration:
- Same issues. Fighting is only natural. Along with strong positive feelings toward a person naturally come negative ones. But the first consideration is whether these fights are over the same issues. If so, it demonstrates that you and your partner are not communicating past them. Some type of blockage is taking place.
- Different tactics. If the above is true, I recommend trying a different tactic. Example: every time you and your partner get in a fight, you end up talking over one another. Next time, try remaining silent while your partner speaks. See if this makes any difference.
- Same results. Have you tried a few different things and ended up with the same result? If so, couples counseling can help.
Couples who fight about the same issues, try different tactics, and end up with the same results, are having a difficult time communicating past their issues.
What does communicating past an issue mean? It means working through it within the relationship. It means reaching a point where it no longer remains such a trigger.
Since couples will inevitably experience hardship together, it’s essential that they have this ability to eventually move beyond issues; otherwise they will continue to pile up.
What exactly is relationship counseling (and how does it work)?
Relationship counseling is an opportunity for a couple to examine why their communication is blocked. Now, sometimes the content, or what the couple is fighting about, is the problem.
For example, a couple might disagree about whether to have a child. In this case, couples therapy can be helpful for the basic reason that it represents a space where the conversation can take place.
More often than not, however, the process — or how the couple is fighting — is the important consideration. It does not matter what the issue is if the pattern of discussing it is one person yelling and the other person crying.
Couples therapy, then, is where these patterns can be noticed by the therapist and presented to the couple as something that needs changing. Of course, this is hopefully done in a space that is comfortable, safe, and neutral.
Here’s a basic four-step process:
- Couple is introduced to the therapist. Each person is given an opportunity to tell their story. Therapist explains the rules of the therapy, emphasizing that this is a safe place for exploration and healing.
- As couple begins to discuss some of the issues they have been experiencing, therapist takes note of how they communicate. He/she eventually brings their communication patterns into the work, asking whether these patterns are bringing about the results the couple wants.
- Assuming the patterns are not ideal, therapist begins to explore each person’s motivation or willingness, to change their pattern. Any resistances to changing are explored.
- The therapist helps the couple brainstorm new ways of communicating with each other. It is important that the couple have an active hand in this, otherwise it will seem forced from the outside. Therapy now becomes a place where this new style of communicating can be practiced.
Benefits to you and your partner
On a relationship level, couples counseling provides, in many cases, the best chance you and your partner have for reversing destructive communication patterns or making big, life-altering decisions.
On an individual level, couples counseling can help each of you become a better communicator. What does this mean, exactly? In session, you will learn that healthy communication takes practice. It is not easy to place ourselves in the shoes of another person and feel what they are feeling.
Good communication also takes awareness. Your therapist will work with each of you to uncover your attachment modes — in other words, the way you communicate based on early life experiences.
How to make relationship counselling work for you (step-by-step)
Now that you understand the benefits of relationship counselling, what should you do to make it work for you and your partner? Here’re the steps:
- Be honest about your motivation. You may be going to find a way to break up. You might be going to receive confirmation that you are right and your partner is wrong.
- Discuss what you want to accomplish beforehand.
- Try to procure a referral; otherwise, choose a profile together. I have seen too many couples choose separately and then fight. If you cannot come to a decision together, that is a data point. It may be worthwhile to try individual therapy first, in that case.
- Be honest. There’s no point in going to couples counselling and not being honest. This does not mean you spill everything all at once. But it does mean that being untruthful is not going to help your therapist help you. If there are certain things that are important, but you are not sure if you are comfortable sharing with your partner, most couples therapists will have individual sessions within the first five sessions: try bringing it up then.
- Discuss what is said in your sessions outside of your sessions. Not at first, necessarily, and not always, but if things get better, recognize that couples counselling (unlike individual therapy) is supposed to be temporary: you want to move it outside the room.
Though many people have heard about relationship counselling, not so many couples are willing to try it even if they have relationship problems.
Many couples have the question “Is relationship counselling for me/us?” Hopefully, this article has answered all the common questions people have about relationship counselling – When should they consider it? How does it work? Does it really work? How to utilize it for their best benefits?
You don’t need to reach the saddest point in your relationship to reach out for relationship counselling. Just take relationship counselling as an opportunity to help your relationship grow and better you and your partner’s communication patterns!
Featured photo credit: Rainier Ridao via unsplash.com