Five Lessons From Relationship Counseling

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated June 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you and your partner are facing challenges in your relationship with each other, you may feel the need for the advice or perspective of a third person. When there’s a conflict between two people, the input of someone who isn’t directly involved in the relationship can be helpful. It’s one reason that many couples of all genders and sexual orientations, married or not, choose to seek guidance from a relationship counselor.

Mental health professionals trained as clinical psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, or family therapists can offer advice and expertise to couples in all kinds of romantic relationships. In traditional therapy, couples meet with a therapist in person and discuss the issues they are dealing with. However, many therapy services now offer online relationship therapy services as well. 

For long distance relationships or those in remote locations who don’t have a local therapist, online therapy can provide the same kind of help through phone calls and video, making it easy to find the services of a trained professional. A free consultation is often available either in person or online, so couples can find the right person they’ll be comfortable working with before committing to their process.

Want to strengthen your relationship with your partner?

One common misconception about relationship issues therapy including couples therapy, is that this type of treatment is only for people with serious problems or mental health conditions. In reality, this is not necessarily true. Both individuals and couples go to therapy for all kinds of reasons, including general maintenance of a healthy relationship or general support for mental health. Additionally, many individuals and couples go to therapy regularly over time rather than only when facing serious challenges.

Relationship therapy is designed to help individuals and couples with a variety of relationship issues, including how to resolve conflicts, stress management, communication coaching and more. Therapists use a variety of techniques such as psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness practices and other strategies to help partners build a stronger connection, improve their ability to deal with difficult feelings, and ultimately strengthen their relationship.

If a couple is considering getting married, premarital therapy has many benefits and can be a proactive measure to manage potential conflicts and help couples develop a stronger bond. For those already married, marriage therapy can be an invaluable tool for resolving conflicts and relationship problems, improving communication, and strengthening the relationship. When couples are dealing with a divorce, therapists can also help them navigate the process in a healthy way. They provide support and guidance to both parties involved, as well as how they may handle the situation with any children involved, and help them address the emotions that come up during this difficult time. They can also provide resources for mediation or court proceedings if necessary.

If you’re considering enlisting the help of a licensed therapist in regard to your relationship but are feeling hesitant, read on. Some people find it helpful to know more about what they can expect before trying something new, and therapy is no different. Let’s take a look at how counseling can help a relationship, as well as what couples who have been to therapy say they’ve learned about how it works.

How to make the most out of relationship counseling

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, over three-fourths of people who receive couple or family therapy report improvement in their relationship.

However, couples therapy usually requires the full buy-in and participation of all parties in order to have a positive effect. That means both members of the couple will typically need to enter the situation with an open mind. Honesty, openness, and a desire to work together on improving the relationship are often important elements of an effective therapeutic experience.

What you can learn in relationship counseling

Couples might seek relationship therapy for a wide variety of reasons. Some may want help working through a difficult experience such as an act of infidelity, parenting challenges, or the loss of a loved one. Others might want general help in improving the quality of their relationship day to day. Some couples therapists also see business partners who want to learn how to best get along, communicate, and stay focused on their mutual goals in their professional endeavors. It’s important to be honest with the therapist you choose about what you feel you need help with and what your expectations are so they can best assist you.

A trained couples therapist can provide useful, objective insights into your relationship. They can help you identify patterns in how you relate to each other through your interactions. They can also help you discover tools to improve or strengthen your dynamic, such as healthy communication strategies or skills for handling conflict. If you are at all interested in the potential benefits of therapy for your relationship, it’s worth meeting with a therapist, explaining your story, and seeing what they can offer.

We surveyed couples who attended therapy together for the first time to discover what they learned from their experience. With their helpful report, here are five themes that emerged when it comes to what couples learn from going to therapy together.

1. Couples counseling isn’t about putting blame on anyone

When two people in a relationship are in conflict, they might experience tendencies toward blaming and victimization. Some people are interested in the input of a therapist because they hope to receive a judgment on who was right and who was wrong in a certain situation or conflict. This is not generally the purpose or aim of relationship counseling. Instead, most therapists focus on helping the couple reestablish trust and boundaries and improve communication for the future.

2. Couples counseling often centers on improving communication

One study found that communication is “the most frequently reported conflict topic” for surveyed couples in the United States. Many couples who have attended counseling have found this to be true. Even if they came in with a different idea of what their key challenge was, the core of that problem often ended up being rooted in communication—or rather, miscommunication.

A trained therapist can help couples learn healthy communication skills through techniques like the Gottman method. For example, couples might learn about honestly communicating their needs, listening more than speaking, asking open-ended questions, using mutually respectful time-outs, understanding the communication style of oneself and one’s partner, how to give feedback, and more. Many couples are surprised at how many of their problems can be improved when they improve their communication skills during relationship counseling sessions.

3. The first few sessions usually start with the basics

Some people expect couples therapy to be a quick cure-all—one or two sessions and their problems will be solved. In actuality, any type of therapy typically works best when committed over a longer term. Expecting to dig into one’s deepest issues with a therapist in the first or second session isn’t realistic. Instead, the first few sessions are usually primarily informational. They’re generally all about the therapist getting to know you, your partner, your life together, and your dynamic. Most counselors will start with simple couples therapy questions, giving both parties the opportunity to talk about themselves and their perspectives. It will take time before the three of you are in a place where you can understand or even access the largest or deepest issues at play in your relationship.

It’s also important to note that things may seem to escalate before improving when it comes to therapy. This can be because it often takes time to get to the problem’s root, and patients generally need to be able to see where and what the problems are before beginning to deploy strategies to mitigate or solve them. Awareness must typically come first. So if you find yourself feeling like things have gotten more difficult rather than getting better, know that this is often a sign of progress even though it may feel otherwise.

4. Therapists may act as more active mediators than people expect

According to one marriage counselor, “The traditional passive, ‘uh-huh, uh-huh’ approach is useless.” While listening is undoubtedly an important aspect of any therapist’s job, they may also choose to be more vocal and interactive with clients as needed. While the therapist stereotype in many people’s minds is someone who displays unconditional positive regard and simply draws out the answers that already exist inside each patient, the reality can be a bit different. While they also make space for active listening, many therapists may also jump in and help guide the discussion more than some people initially expect.

5. It’s about forming and implementing new and better patterns

According to a research study, one of the main goals of couples counseling is to “alter the couple's view of the presenting problem to be more objective.” It’s typically about respectfully confronting your partner, listening to each other, and, in doing so, learning to see the relationship in a more objective manner. When two people have been in a relationship for some time, it can be easy to get locked into seeing your partner and relationship in one specific, subjective way. Therapy can help couples break free of these preconceived judgments, allowing them to see things as they really are—which is what can allow the two to implement lasting, positive changes together.

Want to strengthen your relationship with your partner?

Especially since the pandemic began, online therapy is becoming an increasingly popular option for people seeking this type of help. Whether you’re looking for individual therapy or couples therapy, there are plenty of professionals available to you online. Since studies suggest that virtual counseling offers similar benefits to the in-person variety, you don’t need to wait to find a professional who is right for you. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with an online therapist soon after completing a questionnaire about your needs and preferences. Once matched, you can get the help you need from a licensed, professional counselor. Whether you want to work on your personal goals or improve your relationship, online therapy can help.

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