Counseling For Couples - How Does Couples Therapy Work?
By: Robert Porter
Updated September 17, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC Counsel The Mind, LLC
Why Do Couples Have Disagreements, and How Are They Solved?
Every couple experiences highs and lows throughout their relationship, from small-scale scenarios to larger issues. According to marriage and family counselors, couples often have disagreements that go unresolved. In fact, many arguments end in frustration or lead to another fight. This implies that some of these arguments tend to have the same patterns, causes, and consequences. This article will take a look at these patterns, and cover tips you can use to strengthen your relationship.
What causes tension in relationships? The most common topics of arguments for couples include:
- Free time (where to eat, which movies to watch, etc.)
- Sharing housework
- Physical intimacy
- Extended family obligations & issues
- Snoring & other sleeping habits
- Past relationships
It could even be a simple matter of leaving the toilet seat up. However, in some cases, couples could argue about large-scale issues, such as infidelity, abuse or other toxic behaviors.
If the following steps just don't seem to work for your particular situation, seeking couple's therapy could be a valuable route for your relationship. Couple's therapy can provide answers to couples' most pressing questions, and help them discover their individual triggers and other aspects of a relationship. If you and your partner have constant disagreements, it might be time to consider some of the following solutions. The good news is, couples have been able to strengthen (and even repair) their relationships before you - you can, too. All you need are the right tools.
Counseling: Shift Your Thought Process
Instead of focusing on fighting less, when disagreements arise, don't be afraid to communicate with your partner. Be an active listener and don't just hear what he or she has to say. While in the heat of the moment, it could be challenging to be objective, but learning how to discuss emotions, thoughts and issues is a good foundation to resolve the issues at hand. Counseling can help create this foundation.
Know Your Issues
This step goes hand in hand with changing your thought processes. Instead of ignoring your issues, sit down and discuss whether or not you both recognize any recurring patterns in your disagreements. Have you been stressed out about monthly bills? Do you have disagreements on how to parent your children? Are you feeling overwhelmed with other family obligations? Whatever the issue, talk to your partner so that you have a clear understanding as to where you both stand on key issues within your household.
Don't Blow the Issues out of Proportion
Sometimes 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 issues. Don't grasp at straws and provide irrelevant information to cause an even bigger fight. Be objective and try to not use guilt trips by bringing up past arguments or infractions within the relationship. Refrain from saying things like "You always do this," or "This happened every time before."
Agreeing Could Start a Discussion
While simply agreeing for the sake of avoiding an argument isn't healthy in many cases, agreeing to discuss a particular issue can help you solve issues within your relationship. Be gentle with your words and body language and present a situation in such a way that your partner will not be offended. For example, let's say a couple's daughter is preparing to begin kindergarten in a year, and the wife wants to home-school her, but the husband wants to enroll her in public school. Taking the time to sit down and have a rational discussion could help them work through the issue, as opposed to "agreeing to disagree."
In this instance, the husband could say, "I know we both value education in our own lives, and we want what is best for our child. We both agree on that. Let's talk about some next steps to research education options in our area. Together, we can create a pros and cons list of each option."
Assess your values, thoughts, beliefs, and other integral parts of yourself. Do they match up with your partner's, or do they vary? Your partner might feel less in control in your relationship, which could start an argument about why he or she is so demanding when asking you to perform certain tasks. They could just be seeking some sort of control, even in minimal forms. 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 argument with empathy.
Couples will not see eye to eye on everything. Once you're able to accept that, you'll be able to move past previous arguments that have held both of you back for so long. Identifying trigger issues can help couples better compromise, which in turn makes them happier as individuals and as a couple.
Recognize What's Behind the Scenes
Contrary to popular belief, people don't just get upset for no particular reason, unless of course, that person happens to be a baby. If your partner is coming across as angry or upset, there's likely some sort of internal conflict at hand. Maybe they just so happened to have a bad day at work. Maybe they're caught in between a family situation that you don't know about or hardly understand. Maybe they're battling with 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 try your best to identify what might be causing it. The most common and effective way to go about doing this is to simply find the time to sit down and talk about it. Ask engaging questions such as, "How was work?" If your partner gives you the silent treatment, don't take it personally (as difficult as this is). Take some space and do something that makes you happy in the meantime. Then, approach the topic a few hours later.
How Does Couple's Therapy Work?
Couple's therapy can help couples by utilizing the solutions above and more. According to Psychology Today, for couple's therapy to work, both individuals must be committed to improving their relationship while looking inwardly at their own individual strengths and weaknesses. Knowing their traits and habits that make their partner tick could have a positive effect on making both personal and relationship changes. Couple's therapy isn't meant for one partner to unload anger, resentment and other damaging behaviors toward his or her partner. It's about unlocking solutions based on love, dedication and everything else that goes into a healthy relationship.
A couple's therapist looks at the ins and outs of the couple's relationship and provides them with insight into their shared strengths and weaknesses, as well as their individual ones. The couples' therapist acts as a neutral mediator and gives advice to both partners. He or she may promote more two-way communication, create more positive ways of interacting and thinking, and different ways the couple can show their love and support for each other while in the process of couple's counseling.
Benefits of Couples Therapy
While couples therapy may not help everyone in every situation, many people still express their love for couple's therapy and methods regarding reconnecting with their partner. Some benefits of couple therapy include the following:
High Levels of Satisfaction
During therapy sessions and afterward, couples express higher levels of patient satisfaction and overall happiness. According to a study conducted by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, 97% of couples surveyed said they received the help they needed. They said their 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, as well as work performance.
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It Doesn't Take Much Time
Usually, a couple's therapist has seen and heard it all, from the smallest problems to the most pressing issues in relationships. When couples attend joint sessions, it could take a few sessions to resolve the issues, as therapists have various methods and techniques. Attempting to solve issues yourselves could take more time, so visiting a licensed professional will save you both time and effort.
You'll Know the Answers
Sometimes, therapy will show you that you're truly meant to be with your partner. Other times, it could show that your relationship isn't what either of you wants, which often leads to separation and divorce. Regardless, couples therapy leads to answered questions, less "What-ifs," and more fulfillment.
Couples Therapy Techniques
Many therapists center their practices and sessions on communication for couples. Emotionally-focused therapy (EFT) works for many couples. The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy defines EFT as "a structured approach to couples therapy formulated in the 1980s [that] has developed alongside the science on adult attachment and bonding to expand our understanding of what is happening in couple relationships and to guide therapists" (ICEEFT). EFT works to help couples assess and reorganize their emotional responses, interactions, and bonds. The therapy technique outlines interventions and plans to help couples come to peace with the past and move forward.
Other techniques include:
- Gottman Method: Helps couples increase their overall closeness, respect, and affection through "love maps."
- Narrative Therapy: Couples externally talk about their internal concerns, which can then be viewed from multiple angles.
- Positive Psychology: Therapists use this method to discuss the positive aspects of relationships to induce happiness.
- Imago Relationship Therapy: This is the combination of behavioral and spiritual techniques that pose questions to couples, such as, "Why did you choose your partner?"
Will Couples Therapy Work for Me and My Partner?
Success or failure depends on how you and your partner look at couples' therapy techniques and exercises. If one or both of you scoff at the idea and appear bored and distant during therapy sessions, then the therapy will most likely not work. Both of you have to reach acceptance at some point, either before therapy or during the process. In addition, both of you must want to change your behaviors and respond well to your therapist during your sessions. Also, it depends greatly on the level of your marital problems. Seeking help early in the disagreement phase could establish your relationship's ground rules and prevent several issues down the road. It could 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 a couples therapy session with you, you may consider attending individual therapy to sort out your issues and learn healthy coping mechanisms and solutions for yourself. Try some exercises at home to begin to sort out any issues. Have dinner together or go see a movie. Sit down and talk. Try to discuss any issues you have before bed. Be honest with each other. Care about their needs and place them on the pedestal next to yours and not above you.
Maybe you and your partner have been considering counseling but aren't 100% sure if it's right for you. Before making any final decisions, try out a few alternative options for a much more accurate verdict.
Commit to a "Date Night"
Sometimes we get too caught up in our busy adult lives that we forget to make time for our family and loved ones. Pick a date for you and your partner to hang out and enjoy yourselves. 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 with your partner can lead to both of you feeling more stressed and less connected with each other. 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 it can lead to an increase in memory as well as a boost in your immune system health.
Take a Break
If issues between you and your partner are too overwhelming to deal with, it might be time to take a short break from each other. Though this is often the last resort, it may greatly help you determine whether or not you feel happier with or without them in your life. Your break period is not limited to any amount of time, though you'll typically know within 1 - 3 months.
How BetterHelp Can Support You
A licensed therapist will help you to not only solve your immediate relationship issues, but also to 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. Find reviews of some of counselors below, from people experiencing similar issues.
"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%!"
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, talk to your partner and decide if counseling may be right for you. Take the first step to a fulfilling, loving relationship today.