How Can Marriage Counseling Help Me?
Although there can be stigmas about reaching out for support from a licensed marriage therapist, any couple may choose to take advantage of their services. Marriage therapy and relationship therapy is not only for those struggling, arguing, or considering divorce. Couples might also attend marriage therapy as a tool to help them communicate, learn more about each other, and deepen their connection.
Gaining a new perspective with a therapist
Couples might also reach out for support to their family and friends. However, there can be relationship problems which a couple might not want to talk about with those they know, like sex, intimacy, or personal challenges like infertility. A couples therapist can offer support to these subjects in a discreet manner. In general, marriage and family therapists have a secrecy policy in that they do not divulge the information discussed in couples therapy or therapy sessions with others.
Why do couples seek marriage counseling?
- Improving poor communication
- Learning active listening skills
- Resolving conflicts
- Differing parenting styles
- Blending families
- Building or rebuilding trust
- Navigating mental or physical health concerns as a couple
- Working through intimacy troubles
- Infidelity or an extramarital affair
What happens during a marriage therapy session?
When an individual or couple sees a marriage therapist, the therapist may ask questions during the initial session to learn more about the client’s goals and the couple’s relationship. If it’s a couple, they may ask both partners to come in individually and then together to discuss their concerns. After the first session, the therapist might start implementing a treatment plan and can continue to open discussions with the couple through talk therapy to learn more about their therapy needs regarding mental health and their relationship.
Suppose a couple comes in with concerns about breaking up or considering divorce. In that case, the therapist may mediate as both partners set boundaries and discuss their feelings about the situation. Therapists aren’t necessarily going to offer a solution or tell you to break up. However, they can guide you through discernment counseling and marriage counseling sessions as you make your own decisions and offer tools to support your relationship if you want to do so. If they notice the same argument coming up without a resolution, they may provide guidance to work through the conflict. If you have decided the relationship is over, a relationship therapist may also be a supportive option during the divorce or separation process, which can be challenging for many couples and families.
The therapist can also ensure that both partners have a turn to speak, are respected, and feel safe in therapy as they are receiving treatment. They are often skilled at helping couples communicate and cope with emotions like frustration that might come out during a session.
What does a couples therapist do?
It’s common to wonder what couple’s counselors do during therapy sessions. As you potentially seek marriage counseling, it can be helpful to understand the role of the therapist.
The role of relationship and family therapists
A relationship therapist is typically a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) who helps individuals and couples overcome relationship issues and deepen their bond through solution-focused therapy, emotionally-focused therapy, or a combination. This may involve facilitating conversation between partners and working with one partner at a time. Relationship therapists may observe the situation as a neutral third person and make suggestions based on those observations. For example, if a someone is experiencing conflict within their partnership, the therapist might offer communication strategies to help the individuals work through their difficulties and find areas where they can agree with each other.
However, a relationship therapist’s focus tends to be on the relationship as a unit instead of individual concerns. They typically work within the context of relationships and family systems rather than offering one-on-one therapy services. If you are worried that your mental or emotional health is affecting your relationship, you might also consider seeing an individual therapist outside of your therapy sessions.
While they are mental health professionals, relationship therapists are not typically psychiatrists and may not hold a doctoral degree. Thus, your marriage therapist likely cannot diagnose mental health conditions such as depression or prescribe medication for either partner. If a therapist believes their client might benefit from individual therapy, diagnostic testing, or medication, they may make a referral to another provider, such as a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist.
Seeing a therapist to support your relationship
Offering suggestions instead of orders
One way a therapist might offer suggestions is through activities and worksheets. If a couple struggles to communicate, the therapist can give them a homework assignment to try a new type of conversation, for use in both general communication and especially if an argument arises over the week. The couple can leave themselves reminders around the house or on their phone if they struggle to remember to practice the new skills.
Offering reason and logic
It can be challenging to work on relationship in the face of everyday responsibilities. You may put each other last if you are focusing on children, work, school, or other responsibilities, or you might sense that you and your partner spend too much time together or struggle to be alone.
A therapist can offer room for logic and reason and help couples understand why these dynamics might occur. For example, they could teach couples about their attachment styles. Using research, the therapist can help couples understand how their patterns might work and let them know they’re not alone in their experiences.
Giving healthy reminders
The therapist may remind partners of their connection, love, intimacy, and care. They may remind them to consider why they fell in love and encourage them to engage in activities that rekindle the feeling of love they may have felt at the beginning of their relationship. Often, team-building or problem-solving activities help individuals feel less alienated from each other. As they work together to solve problems and see each other as equals, they might feel closer to each other once more.
For example, a relationship therapist might recommend that people in a relationship complete a fun activity like an escape room to connect with one another. Using suggestions from their therapist, they can try to solve a puzzle to get out of the room. If they want to practice therapeutic skills during the activity, they can practice forms of communication they learned from their therapist if arguments or power struggles arise.
How to find a therapist for relationships
While the majority of LMFTs are qualified to help you and your partner, it can still be challenging to find a good fit. Feeling comfortable with your therapist is typically an essential part of relationship therapy. Screening therapists before you decide on a match may help you find a suitable option. If you or your partner are uncomfortable with someone, consider consulting with other providers.
When consulting with a provider to find a marriage therapist who meets your needs, you can ask the following questions:
- What are your licensing, experience, and qualifications for couples counseling? Are you affiliated with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy?
- Are you experienced in the topic my partner and I hope to discuss?
- What is your approach to couples therapy?
- Do you practice a specific form of therapy?
- Do you prefer to be in control of the session?
- Do you want to meet with us individually before we have couples sessions?
- What is your approach to conflict?
- How much do sessions cost? Are there any late or cancellation fees?
- Do we pay one sum or two separate fees for counseling?
If you and your partner are parents and experiencing challenges related to parenthood, it may also be worth considering whether a family therapist could benefit you. Family therapists specialize in helping parents support their children in each stage of life. They may have relevant clinical experience in social work, family systems, or child psychology that could be helpful for those experiencing issues related to parenthood.
Whichever therapist you choose, it may be worth establishing whether the therapist offers affordable payment plans or takes your insurance. You can also ask about their availability. If they are not available often, it may be beneficial to find a therapist with a more open schedule.
Many couples experiencing relationship concerns may be hesitant to seek support in person due to cost, availability, trouble with an insurance company, or distance barriers. Some people in relationships might be unable to take time off work or other responsibilities to meet during the day. In these cases, online therapy can be a more flexible choice. You can meet your therapist at home, and you and your partner can attend sessions from two separate locations as long as you have an internet connection. Additionally, with online therapy, scheduling can be done after regular business hours or on the weekends for some providers.
In recent studies on internet-based counseling, individuals undergoing online couples therapy reported satisfaction with the experience. The study participants reported feeling comfortable with their therapist over a videoconferencing therapy method and found it on par with in-person treatment. If you’re experiencing relationship concerns or hope to strengthen your partnership, consider signing up for an online platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples. Both platforms offer connections to a growing database of over 30,000 therapists, many specializing in marriage and family therapy.
Frequently asked questions
Does therapy really help a relationship?
What is the difference between marriage therapy and counseling?
What is the goal of relationship therapy?
Why do people go to relationship therapy?
Should partners see the same therapist?
Can you fix a broken relationship?
How do I know if my relationship needs therapy?
Should I be honest with a therapist?
What is the number one killer of relationships?
What questions are asked in relationship counseling?
What is the disadvantage of relationship therapy?
What's the difference between therapist and psychologist?
How many times should we go to couples therapy?
How often should spouses go to counseling?
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