What Are The Most Common And Effective Couples Counseling Techniques?
Couples therapy may help a couple improve communication, resolve conflict, and develop a deeper understanding of one another. Premarital counseling may teach couples valuable skills that underpin a healthy marriage or lifelong partnership, while marriage counseling can be helpful for couples who wish to repair or deepen their bond. The counseling techniques used in a therapy session typically depend on the couple and their goals for couples therapy.
This article will discuss some common reasons people in a relationship might seek advice from a couples counselor, as well as several couples counseling methods for nourishing communication and connection within a partnership.
Why Couples Might Seek Expert Advice
It’s a common misconception that couples therapy is for couples on the brink of divorce or breakup. Certainly, couples counseling can be beneficial for those experiencing relationship problems. However, there are a number of reasons a couple may seek the guidance of a couples counselor. Here are a few common reasons couples start therapy:
Couples counseling can be very helpful in improving communication between partners. In therapy, a couple may learn valuable communication skills to help them relate to one another in a healthy way. A therapist may work with a couple to help them:
- Express emotions in a healthy, constructive way
- Actively listen for mutual understanding
- Avoid criticism when navigating conflict
- Resolve conflicts and find mutually agreeable solutions
- Set boundaries to establish what is and is not acceptable
Trust is critical in relationships, and circumstances such as infidelity, financial difficulties, and addiction may significantly damage the trust between two people. In cases of betrayal, a couples counselor can help a couple repair their bond and find a workable solution. In many cases, this involves helping couples rebuild trust and recommit to one another; sometimes, however, couples therapy may help a couple decide whether they’ve reached a point in their relationship where it’s best to part ways.
Coping With Life Changes
Significant life changes can cause difficulties even within a strong partnership. It’s common for a marriage to be affected by circumstances such as becoming parents, relocating, grieving the death of a loved one, or starting life as a blended family. A couples counselor can be helpful in navigating these life changes.
Whether a couple is stuck in a pattern of conflict or dealing with a significant relationship issue like financial concerns or infidelity, a couples counselor can act as a neutral party so that the couple may work towards a resolution. Couples counselors are trained to act as mediators, meaning they don’t take sides; instead, they help by providing tools, techniques, and frameworks for navigating conflict in a constructive way.
Many couples choose to start therapy as a means of strengthening their bond and deepening their connection. Often, there may be nothing “wrong” within the relationship; however, in therapy, partners learn valuable skills in couples counseling to help them improve emotional or sexual intimacy.
Common Couples Counseling Techniques
There are a number of ways that a licensed counselor can help couples improve their relationship, and many therapists specialize in or prefer a particular therapeutic method. However, there are a few common techniques that you’re likely to encounter in therapy:
Narrative therapy is a type of therapeutic approach that emphasizes the importance of personal narratives in shaping an individual's perception of themselves and their relationships. One of the key principles of narrative therapy is that individuals are not defined by their problems. Instead, problems are seen as separate from the individual and can be externalized and viewed as distinct entities that can be addressed and managed. This can be particularly useful in couples counseling, where it can help couples reframe their relationship problems in a more positive and constructive way.
Learning Reflective Listening
Reflective listening is a communication technique commonly used in couples counseling to help couples improve their communication and deepen their understanding of one another. Reflective listening asks each partner to listen actively, paragraphs their partner, validate their feelings, empathize with them, and respond by sharing their feelings honestly and constructively. The goal of reflective listening is to create a safe and supportive environment where both partners can feel heard and understood.
Facilitating Deeper Conversations
A couples counselor can help couples deepen their connection by facilitating deeper conversation between them. This can be beneficial for helping couples understand each other's perspectives, strengthen their emotional bond, and work through issues that may be causing conflict in their relationship.
Identifying Love Languages
A couples therapist may help couples identify their love languages to help them better understand and meet each other’s emotional needs. Understanding how each other prefers to give and receive love offers a way for couples to improve communication, deepen emotional connection, and strengthen their relationship overall.
Building Positive Communication
Expressions of gratitude, appreciation, and admiration are commonly associated with increased relationship satisfaction. As such, a relationship counselor will often encourage a couple to examine their communication patterns and find ways of increasing the number of positive interactions they have with one another. This could be as simple as asking one another about their day or saying “I love you” more often. Often, building positive communication patterns takes practice, and a marriage therapist can be helpful for staying accountable.
Scheduling Quality Time
It can be common for couples to spend less quality time together as they become busier with the demands of their families and careers. However, spending quality time with one another can be helpful for couples in counseling. A marriage therapist may encourage a couple to schedule one-on-one time together each day or to block off an evening for a date night each month.
Improving Physical Intimacy
Physical intimacy is an important aspect of adult relationships, and improving physical intimacy can help couples strengthen their relationship. A couples therapist will often open up a conversation with a couple around sex and other aspects of physical intimacy. They may assign homework that asks couples to spend more time cuddling, holding hands, or even looking into each other’s eyes. This can be an effective way for couples to reconnect and increase their physical intimacy in a safe and comfortable way.
Types of Couples Therapy
There are several types of couples therapy that a couple may benefit from.
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a therapy approach that helps couples identify and address their emotions, which can improve communication and strengthen the bond between partners.
The Gottman Method is an evidence-based approach that helps couples improve their communication, manage conflicts, and increase intimacy. It focuses on building positive interactions between partners and improving the overall quality of the relationship.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a common couples counseling technique that can help couples identify and improve thought patterns and behaviors causing problems in their relationship.
Solution-Focused Brief Therapyis a short-term therapy approach that focuses on finding solutions to specific problems in the relationship. This approach can be helpful for couples who are dealing with specific issues, such as communication problems or financial issues.
Imago Relationship Therapyhelps couples identify patterns of behavior that may be causing problems in their relationship. This approach focuses on understanding each other's childhood experiences and how they affect the relationship.
Mindfulness-Based Couples Therapy helps couples increase their awareness of their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. Mindfulness can help couples reduce stress and improve communication and intimacy.
When Should You Pursue Couples Therapy?
Generally speaking, the earlier you and your partner seek couples therapy, the better. While many couples don’t contact a licensed therapist until they experience relationship troubles, they often wish they had begun counseling sooner. It can help to get potentially problematic relationship concerns out in the open and discuss them before they place too much stress on a partnership.
Couples therapy can provide a safe space to address any concerns that may be affecting your relationship satisfaction. A couples counselor will often provide materials, techniques, and strategies to continue the work outside of your sessions.
Couples Therapy And Mental Illness
It’s important to note that couples therapy isn’t usually viewed as a primary treatment for individuals with a history of mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety. However, it can be an excellent concurrent therapy.
Mental illness can affect all areas of a person’s life, including relationships. While couples therapy is not primarily focused on treating mental illness, it can help with treatment by offering strategies for conflict resolution, mindfulness, and reflective listening. These strategies may be helpful not only for improving a relationship affected by mental illness, but in helping both partners support each other and manage symptoms.
Therapy Can Give Both Partners A Comfortable Environment
An effective couples counselor creates a safe environment for identifying any issues within a partnership and helping couples reach a workable solution together. Whereas marital stress can often be challenging to manage in daily life, couples counseling provides a safe space for individuals to explain their perspective and share their feelings honestly. It can often be beneficial to have difficult conversations in a private, neutral environment with a trained counselor facilitating the conversation.
Finding a Couples Therapist Near You
Couples counseling is typically conducted by licensed marriage and family therapists, or LMFTs. You can find marriage and family therapy providers by searching online for couples therapists or marriage counselors near you. In-person couples therapy generally requires meeting at a therapist’s office weekly. In many cases, however, online couples therapy sessions, such as those offered by ReGain, may be preferable. Online couples therapy offers couples a way to attend sessions from the comfort of their home, or anywhere with a strong internet connection.
This may be beneficial for couples with busy schedules, careers that require frequent travel, or long-distance relationships. It’s also a great fit for couples that struggle to find a babysitter for in-person sessions.
Recent studies have found that online therapy, for both couples and individuals, is as effective as in-person therapy in many cases. Online therapy can help couples regardless of sexual orientation or relationship status.
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