The 5 Things You Learn In Relationship Counselling
Updated June 25, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers
If you are experiencing relationship problems, it might feel like there is nowhere to turn. Perhaps you normally to go your partner with problems, or you don’t trust many people with your personal information. No matter the reason, don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all need human touch, love, and affection to thrive. You deserve to be in a relationship where you can feel carefree and happy.
What You Learn in Relationship Counseling
Many couples are hesitant to begin relationship counseling because they’re not sure how it can help them. You may feel as if traditional methods of therapy won’t work for you, or maybe you don’t understand the options. On the other hand, you might be sure that you want help, but you don’t know what to expect.
In counseling you’ll learn about skills like communication and problem-solving; then your therapist will help you apply them to your relationship. Before long, you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor in a happy, stable relationship. We’ll discuss these skills in more depth later in this article.
Relationship Counseling Statistics
Does relationship counseling work? Can therapy sessions save a marriage characterized by arguing and constant negativity? Statistics show that counseling for couples is likely to help communication and other important aspects of a relationship.
It can be difficult to cope if you feel like everyone around you is in a healthy, happy relationship. But when it comes to relationship issues, you’re not alone. Fortunately, relationship counseling can help heal your partnership, leaving your relationship on much better terms. While some statistics report a 38 percent failure rate for couples who attend family therapy, other sources like the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists report a 98 percent of couples consider counseling a success. Ultimately, the success of couples counseling will depend on your willingness to engage with the treatment.
How You Can Make it Work
When you begin relationship counseling, the attitude of both partners can determine their success. While it may seem self-evident that those seeking professional counseling want help to change, this is not always the case. With couples, there may be other factors that prompt them to consider counseling, and these dynamics are not always optimal for success. For instance, some people only want to show that they’ve given serious effort to save their relationship. Others may genuinely care about their partner, but they’ve already decided to leave the relationship, so they choose to attend counseling to ensure their partner connects to a supportive therapist before their imminent departure.
That said, in many couples, both parties are sincerely open to improving their relationship by receiving support, assistance, education, and counseling. In this case, these couples will reap the benefits of open-mindedness as well as a willingness to listen to the other partner. In surveying couples attending therapy for the first time, five more surprising lessons stood out. We’ll discuss these below.
- Relationship Counseling is not about “he said, she said.”
Most qualified experts in relationship counseling know there’s no winner in a game of “he said, she said.” So, blaming, victimization, and woe-is-me stories are not encouraged. Counseling isn’t about who was right or wrong; it’s about repairing trust and re-establishing boundaries. While a single person can choose to end any relationship, healthy relationships require the participation of both parties.
And we can learn a lot from our partners. For instance, sometimes the very qualities in our partner that drive us crazy are the qualities that we possess! Instead of complaining, we’ll benefit if we look at our own behavior first. If I tend to complain that my partner never listens to me, I may want to consider how well I listen to him. If I find myself feeling hurt because he is not paying attention to me, I can evaluate how intentionally I attend to him.
One of the greatest sources of conflict in relationships is a misunderstanding, much of which originates from miscommunication. Therefore, a common part of relationship counseling is about communicating effectively and developing conflict resolution skills. We may be truly astounded by how much conflict is the result of a simple misunderstanding. In counseling, you’ll learn productive tools for managing conflict like healthy listening skills; speaking for oneself rather than for the other person; listening more than speaking; asking open-ended questions to gather more complete and accurate information from the other person before responding; using mutually respectful time outs; and learning the differences between passive-aggressive and assertive communication.
It is helpful to recognize that change and blame are mutually exclusive. We have no control over anyone other than ourselves. Of course, we influence others, but we do not have the power to force another person to change. The more we focus our attention on our partner, the less it may even occur to us to look at our own behavior. And because we can’t compel our partners to change, such attempts only lead to feeling more out of control. It is much more productive for each partner to focus on themselves. Relationships are systems where change in any one part automatically creates change throughout the system. There is greater hope and likelihood for change when we commit to changing ourselves.
- The first few visits are informational: don’t expect major conflict.
Most counselors start with a simple question and answer session, asking both partners to explain their history as well as the problem. You’ll get a chance to talk and tell your side of things. These first few sessions establish the tone of counseling and the goals you have as a couple seeking to improve your relationship. Many relationship counselors prefer that the initial session include both partners. This helps to ensure the foundational dynamic of the therapeutic relationship with the couple as a client, rather than only one of the partners as the primary client.
However, it is also quite common for the clinician to strongly recommend, if not require, at least one individual session for each partner immediately following that first joint session. This allows each partner to share whatever they need to express without concern for how their partner may interpret their comments. It also allows the clinician to observe how the partners interact both together and separately.
It is wise to note that, often, things seem to escalate before improving in counseling. This is because we often wait to seek counseling, and in the interim we create coping mechanisms to help us live with the difficulties of our relationships.
Most coping mechanisms serve, in some way, to minimize our awareness of those issues. However, counseling generally requires that we bring everything out into the light. This can cause an increase in both awareness and intensity while working effectively through the counseling process. Please do not be alarmed if you experience this to some extent. It is very normal and to be expected, so, you can view it as evidence of progress, even if it doesn’t feel that way!
- It’s not all about “Uh-huh” and “Tell me why you feel that way.”
The first few sessions might be calm, but as the counseling progresses, the therapist becomes a mediating force–someone who highlights the real problems that exist in a couple’s communication or personal habits. According to one marriage counselor, “the traditional passive, ‘uh huh uh huh’ approach is useless.” Many individual counselors are also much more interactive than the stereotype of a counselor. These stereotypical counselors may display primarily unconditional positive regard. They trust that each partner has all of the answers inside them, so they only need warmth, support, and encouragement to access their inner wisdom. However, relationship counselors almost always need to be more instructive, directive, and interactive to serve the best needs of their clients.
- Relationship counseling is about starting a new relationship with each other–not continuing with business as usual.
According to Psychology Today, the real goal of couples’ counseling is to change the way both partners view the relationship. It’s about respectfully confronting each other, listening to each other, and then learning to see the relationship in a more “objective manner.” In doing so, couples learn to stop blaming each other and instead look at the marriage or relationship as a team project. The longer you have been in your relationship, the easier it is to get stuck in the way you view your partner. This can interfere with your partner’s ability to make the changes you may have been requesting for years or decades! We all tend to resist change — even when it is completely personal, involving no one outside ourselves.
Therefore, it is prudent to be aware of the ways you might try to derail or obstruct your progress. When you’re in relationship counseling, you’ll also want to be cognizant of the extent to which you may resist your partner’s attempts to grow. If you want change to occur, you must be intentional about allowing for change.
How BetterHelp Can Help
Many couples are now trying the online option because traveling to and from a clinic is difficult, especially if both partners work or have other family responsibilities. While face-to-face sessions allow for greater exchange of helpful details like body language, facial expressions, or other non-verbal reactions, virtual counseling serves a very important role in making professional, high-quality, counseling available to everyone. BetterHelp offers features like like conferencing and phone chat, making it easier than ever to find a time and date that works for everyone. If you and your partner would like to try a new approach, sign up and see how easy it is to get started. See below for BetterHelp counselor reviews.
“Mark has been extremely attentive to everything that I disclose. He’s not only provided me support but insight and encouragement to let me know I’m on a good path to self improvement and discovery. Furthermore, Mark has provided me valuable insight on my romantic relationship, specifically with learning more about the relationship dynamics and how to build a stronger, healthier relationship.”
“Dr. Harrell was there for me and helped me get to the issues of my problems and triggers. I am a much better person and feel like a new person. I am pursuing a dream that I never thought would be possible to achieve. Me and my wife are again on speaking terms with a small glimmer of hope. I honestly wouldn’t be where I am now without her support.”
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