How Do Couples Therapy Sessions Work?

By Robert Porter|Updated May 26, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC Counsel The Mind, LLC

Why Do Couples Have Emotional Disagreements? Couples Therapy

All partners experience conflict, from small-scale spats to larger fights. According to marriage and family counselors, couples often have disagreements that go unresolved. In fact, many arguments end in frustration or lead to yet another fight. And these arguments tend to have the same patterns, including causes and consequences. This article will take a look at these patterns and offer tips you can use to strengthen your relationship, as well as valuable information about couples weekly therapy and online counseling.
 
An engaged couple link their fingers, showing their love before marriage.
Are You And Your Partner Having Constant Disagreements?

What causes tension in relationships?

The most common topics of arguments for couples include:
  • Free time (where to eat, which movies to watch, etc.)
  • Money
  • Housework
  • Physical intimacy
  • Extended family obligations and issues
  • Children or being parents
  • Career
  • Snoring and other sleeping habits
  • Past relationships
Even a simple matter such as leaving the toilet seat up can cause tension in a relationship. But in many cases, couples argue about larger-scale issues such as infidelity, betrayal of trust, and other toxic behaviors. Should couples go to therapy together for conflicts?

If you and your partner are experiencing constant conflict, couples or marriage therapy could be a valuable support for your relationship to help you navigate your emotions together. Relationship therapy can provide answers to couples' most pressing concerns. The good news is, many couples have succeeding in strengthening their relationships and overall relationship satisfaction— you can too. All you need are the right tools and goals. We will start by taking a look at some of the foundations and approaches of couples therapy.

Couples Counseling: A Foundation To Communicate

What do couples do in couples counseling? Instead of focusing on fighting less, it is helpful for couples to focus on better communication when disagreements arise during the course of a relationship. Be an active listener: truly listen to what your partner has to say and give them the space to speak their mind. While in the heat of the moment, it can be challenging to be objective, but learning how to discuss thoughts and feelings is an invaluable foundation for a healthier relationship. Counseling with couples therapists can help create this foundation.

Know Your Issues

Knowing your issues includes you and your partner identifying recurring patterns in your arguments. Have you been stressed out about monthly bills or health issues? Do you have disagreements on how to parent your children? Are you feeling overwhelmed with other family obligations? Whatever is going on, talk to your partner so that you have a clear understanding about where you both stand on key issues within your household.

A couple sits together, growing closer after live session

Stick To Emotional Issues That Are Present

It can be difficult to not make a mountain out of a molehill. When a disagreement arises, think about the current situation and its underlying cause. Don't bring in irrelevant information that could cause an even bigger fight. Be fair, and try not to guilt trip by bringing up past arguments. Refrain from saying things like "You always do this" or "This happened every time before."

Find Areas Of Healthy Agreement

While agreeing simply for the sake of avoiding an argument is not always a great strategy, identifying a place where you agree in the midst of an argument can be helpful and constructive. For example, let's say a couple disagrees on whether their young daughter should be home schooled. Instead of either arguing or “agreeing to disagree”, one partner could say, "I know we both value education and want what is best for our child. Now let's create a pros and cons list of each option so we can figure out the best solution". Acknowledging an area of agreement creates a sense of alliance, which makes finding a compromise more likely during the partner's conversations together.

Step Into Your Partner’s Shoes

Assess your values, thoughts, beliefs, and other integral parts of yourself. Where do they match up with your partner's, and where are they different? Different values could be the real cause of your argument—it helps to understand that. Or you might recognize that the real cause of an argument is your partner feeling they have less control than you do, which made them pick a fight. Although controlling other people is not a healthy way to operate, trying to understand the argument from the other person's perspective will help you approach the situation with empathy.
 
"A licensed therapist will help you not only solve your immediate relationship issue, but also create long-lasting solutions that will aid in both partners' communication, interaction, and displays of love throughout your relationship."
 

Can counseling with your partner make things worse? Two people will not see eye to eye on everything. Once you're able to accept that, you'll also be able to move past previous arguments. Couples therapy can help you reach this point. It should not make things worse, but it may help propel you to uncomfortable growth. 

 
Contrary to popular belief, people don't usually get upset for no reason. If your partner is coming across as angry or upset and you can’t figure out why, there's likely some sort of internal conflict going on. Maybe they had a bad day at work. Maybe there is conflict that you’re not aware of with friends or family members. Maybe they're battling a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety — you never know.
 
The point here is that rather than assuming that your partner's behavior is irrational, you should do your best to identify what might be causing it. The most effective way to do this might be to make time to talk about it during a session.

How Does Relationship Therapy Work?

Couple's therapy can help two people learn the above strategies and more. According to Psychology Today, for couple's therapy to work, both individuals must be committed to improving their relationship while also acknowledging their individual strengths and weaknesses. Recognizing one’s own difficult habits is as important as identifying what about your partner drives you crazy. What kind of therapist is best for couples? Couples therapy isn't a place for one partner to unload anger, resentment, or damaging behaviors on the other. It aims to unlock solutions based on love and dedication — and the willingness to work toward a healthy relationship. How soon is too soon to begin seeing a therapist together? If you feel like your relationship would be supported by outside help, it's never too soon to consider therapy. Couples therapy can help you two understand how to communicate with one another to resolve conflicts and better understand one another. Maybe you and your partner have cultural differences that have not been discussed or are working through the after effects of infidelity. Couples therapy can provide the clinical experience setting that may be needed to discuss these issues openly and determine next steps in your relationship.
 

Can a boyfriend and girlfriend attend live sessions together? Couples therapy is not just for married people — couples therapy can help anyone in a relationship. A couples therapist may observe a couple's relationship and provide them with insight into both their shared and individual strengths and weaknesses. They may also act as a neutral mediator, giving advice to both partners. Finally, behavioral couples therapy may teach the couple more effective ways to interact and communicate, and brainstorm with the couple about ways they can show their love and support for each other even while dealing with conflict. Research shows that online relationship sessions can be a powerful tool in addressing relationship issues and strengthening relationships. 

 

What Are Some Benefits Of Therapy With Your Partner?

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Are You And Your Partner Having Constant Disagreements?

While couples therapy may not help every couple in every situation, it is highly effective for many partnerships. Some benefits include the following:

High Levels Of Emotional Satisfaction

During and after couples therapy sessions, couples express high levels of satisfaction and greater happiness. According to a study conducted by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, 97 percent of couples surveyed said they received the help they needed during couples therapy. They reported that their marriage and family therapist gave them the resources they needed to make more effective decisions about their relationships. As a side effect, their overall mental and physical health improved with couples therapy, as well as their work performance. It is important to note that what is right for other people's relationships may not be right for your relationship. Couples therapy will help you look at your own relationship without thinking about how other people's relationships are superior or inferior to your own, allowing you to work through your conflicts with your partner in an authentic way. 

Couples Therapy Saves You Time

Most couples therapists have seen and heard it all, from the smallest problems to the most pressing relationship issues. Therefore, they are prepared with methods to help you as efficiently and effectively as possible, such as healthy communication skills and ways to discuss unresolved conflicts. Attempting to solve issues on your own is likely to be more time consuming, as you will need to figure out what works as you go along instead of working through issues during couples therapy. Attending weekly couples therapy can help a couple work through their issues and move forward in a healthy and positive way. 

Couples Will Have Answers And Information To Move Forward

Sometimes, couples therapy will show you that you're truly meant to be with your partner. Other times, it will indicate that your relationship isn't right for either or both of you. Either way, couples therapy helps you answer important questions about the health of your relationship and deeper friendship, leading to greater fulfillment in the long term. It's important to note that in couples therapy divorce or ending a marriage will not be recommended; instead, couples therapy will help you determine what's the healthiest option for yourself. 
What Are Its Techniques?
Most couples therapy centers on increasing effective communication and strengthening attachment bonds. For example, emotionally focused couples therapy (EFT)  uses knowledge of adult attachment and bonding to guide therapists in helping couples. EFT therapists help couples assess and strengthen their emotional responses, interactions, and bonds. This type of couples therapy helps couples come to peace with the past and move forward into the future.
 
Other couples therapy modalities include:
  • Gottman Method: This approach helps couples (in marriage or relationships) increase their overall closeness, respect, and affection through "love maps."
  • Narrative Therapy: Couples identify and name their internalized issues, which can then be viewed from multiple angles and worked with constructively.
  • Positive Psychology: Therapists use this method to emphasize the positive aspects of relationships, increasing happiness.
  • Imago Therapy: This method combines behavioral and spiritual techniques, posing questions to couples such as "Why did you choose your partner?"
Will It Work For My Partner and Me?
Success or failure depends on the extent to which both partners are willing to commit to couples therapy techniques and exercises. If one or both of you are unwilling to fully engage and provide commitment to the process, then couples therapy is not likely to work. The process takes effort from both sides. In addition, both partners must be willing to change their behavior. Finally, the fit between therapist and clients must be good enough. What should I not tell a marriage counselor? You should feel comfortable telling your therapist anything. Something you might think is small or embarrassing might help unlock new insights. What you tell them is protected by privacy laws, except in special cases where the therapist might learn that someone is in danger. 
 
Other factors include things like the level of marital stress. Seeking help early in your relationship, when disagreements are just starting to emerge, can establish ground rules and prevent issues down the road. It may also be a good idea to sign up for premarital counseling if you are engaged or thinking about marriage.
 
If your partner refuses to go to couples therapy, you might consider individual therapy to sort out your own issues related to the relationship and learn healthy coping mechanisms. 

Should a husband and wife see the same therapist?


If your partner does not feel comfortable attending couples therapy, but is willing to try therapy on their own, you might be able to see the same therapist individually, with the goal of eventually trying couples sessions. 

Should I tell my wife what I talk about in therapy? 

It's perfectly fine to talk to your spouse about what you discuss in therapy. This can help them understand what areas of your life or your relationship that you're struggling with or working on. It might even show them how therapy helps you, and inspire them to try it.

Alternative Solutions
Maybe you and your partner have been considering couples therapy but aren't 100 percent sure it's right for you. Before committing to relationship therapy, you can try out a few alternatives.
Commit to A "Date Night" Experience
Sometimes we get so caught up in our busy lives that we forget to make time for our loved ones. Here’s a solution. Pick a weekly date night that you and your partner can devote to shared quality time. You might consider types of activities you enjoy doing together. Whether that means going out to dinner and a show or simply staying at home and cuddling in front of the TV, mark your calendar and commit.
Have More Sex
Lack of physical intimacy can lead to both partners feeling more stressed and less connected. Studies have shown that having more sex with your partner can open the door to more positive communication, as well as an increase in overall happiness. It's also worth noting that sex can increase memory as well as boost the immune system. However, you should never feel pressured to have sex, even in a committed relationship. The ongoing and enthusiastic consent of both partners is essential for a healthy sex life.
Consider If It's Time To Take A Safe Break
If issues between you and your partner become too overwhelming to deal with, it might be time to take a short break from each other. Although this may seem like a last resort, it can help the relationship by revealing whether you are happier with or without each other. There is no set amount of time for a break; you and your partner can decide together.
How Mental Health Professionals Can Support You
Whether you live in New York, Oregon, or Arkansas, a licensed therapist will help you to not only solve your immediate relationship issues, but also create long-lasting solutions that will aid in both partners' communication, interaction, and displays of love throughout your relationship. You deserve to be happy — let us help.

Evidence And Research For The Success of Relationship Counseling

According to research, couples therapy is effective in reducing relationship distress; however, it is used by less than one third of divorcing couples. Online couples therapy was proposed as a solution, as it is a lot more accessible than in-person therapy in today's world. Three hundred couples participated in the OurRelationship (OR) program study. Couples were randomly assigned to treatment or a waitlist control condition. Those assigned to the treatment condition received seven hours of online activities and four 15-minute calls with staff members. The couples that received treatment had significant improvements as compared to the waitlist group in relationship satisfaction, relationship confidence, and negative relationship quality. Members of the couples also reported significant improvements in their individual functioning, including in depressive and anxious symptoms, perceived health, work functioning, and quality of life.

What Are The Benefits of Doing Couples Therapy Online?

As discussed above, online couples therapy is an exciting option for couples wanting to improve their relationships, especially as it can be difficult to find time in two busy schedules for in-person relationship therapy. This is where BetterHelp and its partner site ReGain.us come in. You can access BetterHelp’s platform from the comfort and privacy of your own home, speeding up the steps to begin therapy — no more scouring lists of nearby providers.
In addition, online couples therapy offers lower pricing than in-person couples therapy because online therapists don’t have to pay for costs like renting an office. BetterHelp’s licensed therapists have helped individuals and couples with relationship issues. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp psychologists from people experiencing similar issues.
Counseling Reviews
"Stephanie is a gem! She's very thoughtful, thorough, honest, insightful but most of all helpful. This is coming from a person that never wanted to do counseling and just "knew" I didn't need it. She's been key in helping my wife and I find our better place. She made us grow as a couple and individually. Thanks Steph!"
 
"Nicole has helped me turn my entire mentality towards relationships around! My relationship with my significant other has never been stronger or healthier, and it's all thanks to her. She knows exactly how to help me process what I'm feeling and how to move forward with what I want while juggling what my partner wants, as well as our needs. It's only been a few months, but my entire mental state has improved 3000%!"
Conclusion: Therapy Tends To Create Emotional Wellness

Couples therapy may not sound appealing at first, but it might just save your relationship with the one you love. As strong of a bond as you and your partner may have, sometimes it's just not enough to break through some of the more difficult issues. In this case, have a conversation with your partner and decide if counseling may be right for you. Take the first step to a fulfilling, loving relationship today.

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