Counseling For Couples As Part Of A Healthy Relationship
Updated September 04, 2018
Even the most compatible couple's relationship will probably experience its rocky patches. This is inevitable: all people have different outlooks, priorities and values, and expecting your partner to conform to yours every time is simply not realistic. Counseling for couples can help you to understand your partner better. Talking about the issues that are important to you both, frequently and openly, is a good start and in fact essential, but it might not always be enough.
The Hidden Traps in Romance
Whether from a desire not to hurt the other party's feelings, emotional inhibition or for other reasons, we often don't say exactly what we mean - even to a person we think we're always totally honest with. Over time, these little gaps in communication can add up to something that places real distance between the two of you.
You may be thinking that involving a third person is the last thing you need to build a stronger relationship, but remember that there is a world of difference between a qualified counselor and somebody you just happen to know. Pursuing couples therapy is not an indication that you are about to give up, nor is it something that should only be done once a problem has definitely reared its head in your relationship.
Practical Counseling for Couples
Visiting a qualified, licensed couples counselor will likely open your eyes to many aspects of your relationship that you didn't know existed, or didn't realize the importance of. Aside from the major decisions such as marriage, having children or buying property together, any relationship is a tapestry of many interrelated factors that can combine to produce either a disastrous, unhappy couple, a way of living that's more or less convenient but still mildly irritating, or a truly solid partnership that can last out the years to come.
Avoiding these issues or never really becoming aware of them is a sure road to eventually breaking up, or staying together without making each other happy. Remember that the things that are crucially important to your partner might not even register in your mind, and vice versa. An experienced couples counselor is expert at detecting these disconnects and steering the conversation towards areas you might not visit frequently, or even shy away from.
The key to building a stronger relationship is often to understand your partner better, trust them more, and better know what is important to them. Sadly, simply loving someone doesn't make any of this happen automatically. It does take work, and one of the most valuable tools at your disposal is couples therapy.
Getting Acquainted with Your Therapist
Before you can go deeply into the workings of your relationship, you need to get to know a bit about your counselor. They will also ask questions to get to know you. They might ask how long you've been together, how you met, what drew you to each other, and what you most like about each other now. They might ask you questions that go more to the heart of the reason for the counseling, such as how long you've been dissatisfied with the relationship and where you see your relationship going in the future. By the time you've covered these subjects, you'll likely have gained trust in the therapist, and they'll understand you and your issues well enough to begin therapy in earnest.
When people go into counseling for couples, they often arrive with psychological bruises from the past or from the relationship itself. The first bit of therapy you both need is support and understanding for what you've struggled through on the way to this point in your life. Each partner needs to feel cared for within the counseling space. An experienced couples counselor typically shows no favoritism for either of you. They give understanding and acceptance fairly to each person within the bounds of healthy communication.
Airline hosts offer a warning before each flight as they're explaining emergency procedures. They tell passengers that if they need the oxygen mask, they need to put it on themselves first before trying to help someone else. Obviously, you can't be much good to someone else if you've passed out from lack of oxygen.
The same idea holds true for couples. You need to put your own mental health first. This may seem counterproductive when you're trying to renew your commitment to each other. However, the truth is that you can be a better, more loving partner when you are at your best. For this reason, couples counselors often suggest that each of the people in the relationship see separate individual counselors to ensure that they stay on the right track with their mental health and get the support they need.
Examining Behavior within the Relationship
You probably wouldn't be in couples counseling unless you love the other person and want to make your relationship work. What we often miss, though, is that our words and our actions don't always convey that message to our partner. So, an important step in couples therapy is to take a look at the way you behave towards each other. You might bring up something your partner did that made you feel unwanted. They might bring up something you said that made them feel hurt.
The key to learning to do better is to seriously consider what your significant other says. Take it in with an open mind. When you focus on what you can do to make the relationship better, you are far more likely to see those improvements. Pay more attention to what you need to do rather than what you want from your loved one. When you do, you tap into your own personal power to build the kind of relationship you want.
Counseling Techniques to Promote Understanding
Your counselor will likely use a variety of techniques to help you get into the other person's perspective and see the relationship from their point of view. One of the most effective techniques that has been used widely by psychologists around the world is role-playing. This is an exercise in which you pretend to be your partner and they pretend to by you. The counselor usually sets up a scenario for you before you act out your parts. By this means, you can feel what it's like to be on the other end of the types of words you use to them. You might also be able to identify communication errors you've been making.
Another useful technique is letter-writing. You each write a letter to the other one, saying exactly what's on your mind concerning the relationship. Some counselors have each person read their letter to their partner at the next counseling session. Because the therapist is right there, they can guide you through the conflicts that might arise when you and your partner hear each other's letters.
Other techniques involve using the imagination. For example, suppose you are angry because your loved one won't try to get a better job. Your counselor might ask you to imagine and describe what your lives would be like if your partner took a job with better pay and higher status but one she didn't like. How you fill in that blank is totally up to you. Couples counseling isn't about playing games or getting gold stars. The point is to try to see the reality of the changes you each could make and evaluate whether you're asking for something that would be worth the effort.
Find Out What's Behind Your Disagreements
Are you wondering why you and your significant other always have to argue? If so, it's a good time to begin couples therapy. You might find out that the answer is that you simply have different opinions, tastes, and viewpoints. No two people are exactly alike, after all. On the other hand, you might find out that the issues that truly divide you are hidden behind a smokescreen of petty complaints. The real issues may be much more profound than you ever dreamed possible. If so, the counselor can help you discover them and teach you to deal with them together.
Sometimes, couples counseling ends when one of the partners discovers that they no longer want to be in the relationship. However, for most couples, the goal is to overcome the problems and issues that separate them and rebuild the relationship better than it has ever been before. If you stick with therapy long enough to learn how to engage with each other in a healthy way, you can begin to reconnect on an emotional level. You can create a stronger, more satisfying union and reignite the passion you once shared. It isn't easy, but those who have succeeded reap amazing rewards.