How Can A Couples Counselor Help My Relationship?

Updated January 23, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

All relationships have the potential to improve, grow, and change. Couples counselors often facilitate a relationship's growth by encouraging communication, fostering acceptance, and analyzing the source of problems reported by the couple. While many couples seek counseling to resolve a specific concern, it is a common misconception that counseling is reserved for only the most severe relationship problems.  Experts suggest that couples who attend therapy at the earliest sign of difficulties in their relationship see a greater improvement than couples who wait until the problems are overwhelming.

Are You Ready To Improve Your Relationship?

The role of a couples counselor is to create a safe space for relationships, free of judgment and anger, where partners can healthily resolve conflict. While it can seem daunting to navigate relationship problems with a therapist, most couples who attend therapy see significant improvement in their relationships and overall well-being. It is never too late (or too early) to seek guidance from a couples therapist.

 Why Couples Seek Therapy  

There does not need to be a severe problem for a couple to seek therapy. Partners may simply wish to improve communication, better understand their partner, or improve trust. A couple might also visit a therapist to gain a specific skill, such as learning to engage positively or listen actively. Many partners who see a couples counselor may have no immediate concerns, but wish to take advantage of the counselor's relationship expertise. An example is pre-marital therapy, where partners visit a counselor to learn good relationship skills, uncover potential issues, and address them before they significantly impact the marriage.   

Couples therapists can provide tools to a relationship where issues have grown beyond what the partners feel they can handle. Couples counselors regularly work with severe relationship problems. They are adept at helping clients restore trust, resolve anger, and reach an understanding. Partners who seek counseling can expect a non-judgmental atmosphere that prioritizes growth. Focus is placed on the well-being and happiness of both partners, not on assigning blame or determining who is right and who is wrong.

There is no threshold for seeking couples therapy. Partners may feel that they cannot resolve their issues without serious help, or that their relationship has no problems at all. Almost every relationship has room for improvement, and couples counseling provides an environment to explore how a relationship can reach its greatest potential safely.

Evolution Of Couples Therapy

Today's couples therapists can use techniques based on nearly a century of scientific investigation and discovery. Researchers first began to apply psychotherapeutic techniques to couples in the 1930s. The methods of the time bore little resemblance to their modern counterparts, with the first contemporary therapeutic strategies emerging in the 1960s. The mid-20th century was a period of enormous progress for psychotherapy; the scientific community introduced several new, empirically supported counseling techniques that were far more effective than previous methods.

Since the 1960s, couples counseling has continued to improve. The success rate has steadily increased as techniques become more effective and counselors receive additional tools to address relationship concerns. Modern couples counseling has also grown more inclusive. In the past, couples therapy was termed "marital therapy" and was intended only for straight, married couples. Today's methods incorporate an understanding of modern cultural norms and various relationship dynamics.

Couples counseling recently experienced another major boom spurred by the growing popularity of teletherapy. Attending online counseling has removed a barrier many partners face when accessing therapeutic services. Community perception is also shifting; the inrush of new couples seeking therapy likely indicates a greater acceptance of couples counseling, especially as a preventative measure. The number of couples seeking counseling to improve communication or address problems in their relationship has increased drastically.

Effectiveness of Couples Therapy

Modern couples therapy can be highly effective, and most couples tend to be happier with their relationships after counseling. Research indicates that over 70% of couples are likely to report a significant improvement in their relationship after attending couples therapy, which is on par with success rates for individual therapy. In addition, several couples therapy treatments have evidence supporting their use in treating highly specific issues, such as sexual dysfunction or infidelity.

A vast body of evidence supports an improvement in each partner's general well-being and coexisting emotional or behavioral concerns. The evidence of improvement is significant enough that researchers and therapists are adapting couples counseling techniques to treat individual concerns. Couple-based intervention leverages the benefits of couples therapy to help one partner address physical or mental health hurdles. The emergence of couple-based interventions speaks to the effectiveness of couples counseling and can represents one of the most important recent innovations in relationship science.  

Couples Therapy Techniques

A couples counselor often has a wide variety of techniques from which to choose. The selection is based on each partner's needs, the desire to address a specific problem, and the severity of the concerns in the relationship. Couples counselors and clients work together to decide the best course forward, often choosing a method that is attainable for the couple and addresses high-priority issues first. Some common approaches to couples therapy include:

Solution-Focused Therapy

Solution-focused therapy is generally used in situations that have a specific issue at the center of the conflict. The couple and therapist work together to identify possible solutions that resolve the concern of both partners. Solution-focused therapy doesn't take a deep dive into the problem itself. Instead, it empowers couples to identify what they need to move forward. The approach is forward-thinking and designed to reduce blame and anger.

Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy is a popular technique that encourages partners to tell the "story" of their relationship. The therapist helps the couple frame their relationship as a narrative and uses the story structure to help each partner better understand themselves and each other. Couples are encouraged to adopt new narratives emphasizing respect and reducing blame.

Emotion-Focused Therapy

Emotion-focused therapy is a popular and well-understood therapeutic approach used in both couples and individual therapy. For couples, the process is grounded in attachment theory. Attachment theory, as the name suggests, describes how individuals attach and connect emotionally. It was first studied as a framework to understand parent-child relationships, but it has since been adapted to describe all kinds of interpersonal relationships.

Behavioral Couple Therapy

Behavioral therapy focuses on specific behaviors that impact a relationship. This approach relies on the fact that certain behaviors are inherently beneficial to the relationship. The counselor models and instructs partners on several relationship skills, such as expressing emotions and negotiating requests. Partners then complete exercises outside of the counseling session to reinforce positive behaviors.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most widely used and best-understood therapeutic techniques available to counselors. It is used with couples and individuals and focuses on addressing thought patterns negatively influencing behavior. Unlike behavioral therapy, the focus is not on the behavior itself but rather on the thoughts (cognitions) that lead to unhealthy behaviors in a relationship.

The Gottman Method

John Gottman, a psychology professor and relationship expert, developed the Gottman method. Gottman focuses on developing problem-solving skills and recognizing behaviors that are destructive to the relationship. The Gottman method has become well-known among professionals and couples alike and is commonly used during couples counseling sessions.

The list above includes only a few modern approaches to couples counseling. Dozens of additional techniques are available, all of which are backed by rigorous scientific evidence. If a couple does not feel that any of the listed methods are suitable, it can help to consider exploring other options with a counselor. Couples counseling may begin with building trust between the couple and therapist, and both partners will have an opportunity to discuss various approaches before committing to the process.

Online Couples Therapy

Meeting with a couples counselor online is an increasingly popular approach to accessing therapy. The convenience of accessing therapy from the comfort of home has been a benefit since the early days of teletherapy, but recent research indicates that there may be additional benefits for couples. Many couples report that online couples counseling allowed them to feel more engaged with their partner, and others found that online counseling increased their engagement with the therapeutic process.

Takeaway

Meeting with a couples counselor is likely to be beneficial, even if a relationship has no apparent problems. If concerns about the relationship do exist, it can be most effective to seek therapy early, rather than letting the issues compound. Couples therapy is evidence-based and often highly effective. Recent evidence has demonstrated that online couples counseling is just as effective as in-person counseling, which may lower the barrier to accessing care.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What can I expect from a couples counseling session?
Is it worth going to couples counseling?
What is the success rate of couples therapy?
Can couples therapy make things worse?
What not to say in couples counseling?
What is the difference between marriage counseling and couples therapy?
How is couples therapy different from family therapy?
What is the Gottman Method?
How do marriages work without counseling?

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