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 party. When there’s 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 relationship counseling from a therapist.
One common misconception about therapy in general, including couples therapy, is that it’s only for people who have serious, immediate 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 and upkeep of their relationship or their own mental health. Additionally, many individuals and couples go to therapy regularly over time rather than only when facing serious challenges.
If you’re considering enlisting the help of a mental health professional in regards 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 what counseling can do for 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 Couples Counseling
However, couples counseling 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 counseling 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. 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 therapist can provide useful, objective insights into your relationship. They can help you identify patterns in how you relate to and interact with each other. 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, sharing 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. Here are five themes that emerged when it comes to what couples learn from going to therapy together.
1. Relationship Counseling Generally Isn’t About Assigning Blame
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 and strategies such as speaking for oneself rather than for the other person, listening more than speaking, asking open-ended questions, using mutually respectful time-outs, understanding the communication style of oneself and one’s partner, and more. Many couples are surprised at how many of their problems can be improved when they enhance their communication skills together.
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 to 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, and your dynamic. Most counselors will start with simple questions, giving both parties the opportunity to share about themselves and their perspective. 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 that 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. Relationship Counseling Is Typically About Implementing New 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.
Take a look at the reviews below from people who sought out an online therapist to help them with their relationship challenges.
“Mark has been extremely attentive to everything that I disclose. He’s not only supported me 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 into 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. I 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.”