Seeking marital therapy can be an anxiety provoking experience, which is often the reason that many couples avoid going for couple’s therapy. Knowing what to expect from the process and understanding how couple’s therapy sessions work may take some of the mystery out of the process and help you to make the decision to seek help.
Couples seek counseling when they want to improve their relationship or have become unhappy in their marriage. They may feel that their needs are not being heard or met or they might be stuck in unresolved conflicts. Many times, it feels like the relationship is stuck and they are repeating the same conversation and the same conflict over and over again. Couple’s therapy is useful in helping the couple move from a conflict situation to a more emotionally and intimately connected situation where needs are being met and problems are collaboratively and constructively solved. Even if the relationship is relatively good couples therapy be enormously beneficial in improving intimacy and connection and creating a more satisfying and fulfilling relationship in general.
Couples therapy create a safe and neutral space for you and your partner to explore your relationship. Having a third party who is objective can help you say things to your spouse that you could not do just on your own. Even more important, an experienced couples therapist has worked with many couples like you so they can tell you what to expect from your marriage and what needs to change in order for you to have a different and better experience than you have at home.
In any relationship, both partners want to be heard, loved, accepted. However, most couples get caught in unproductive communication patterns and end up feeling frustrated and disconnected. When that happens couples usually blame the other person, not realizing that their intention is probably positive, but it’s not communicated well. Couples therapy allows couples to discuss their issues in a safe environment without reverting to old negative patterns of interacting. The therapist helps the couple to discover how those patterns happen and what they need to do in order to change them. The goal is to have a different outcome than the one they have at home – communicating in a more empathic way, learning how to listen to each other better, how to understand the real needs and desires of each other and how bridge the gap between what you want to say and what your partner hears. The couple’s therapist will always intervene if the discussion is becoming disrespectful rather than insightful.
Here are some techniques and tools that you can learn through couples counseling:
Uncovering the real causes of distress – often the things you are arguing about is a result of an underlying issue that has not yet been communicated or resolved.
Teaching specific tools to improve closeness and connection – through learning about each other’s love language(link), and homework assignments such as “date nights” are used in order to encourage communication, facilitate fun and build on common interests in the relationship.
Learning how to quickly repair conflicts – when a conflict happens it is really important to know what both partners can do to quickly resolve it so it doesn’t escalate further or build resentment.
Finding ways to support each partner’s goals and dreams – it is important that your relationship offers a supportive and positive environment where your partner supports your goals and dreams.
Resolving past incidents in the relationship that might be affecting the present – past painful experiences can often influence the way we behave and feel within current relationships. Uncovering and resolving these past hurts helps us start fresh and therefore be more open and available for connection.
Looking at past experiences – helping the couple learn how childhood experiences, old habits and defense patterns may be impacting the relationship in the present. By briefly exploring each partner’s past empathy is created and each partner gains insight into their partner’s current behavior.
Teaching anger management – it is important to avoid future escalation of conflicts and by knowing when you are at “boiling” point and how to calm yourself down, you are better able to avoid arguments becoming hurtful and tactless.
Here are two of the most common questions people ask about couples therapy. For more information see our couples counseling FAQs page.
How many sessions will we need? This is a common question and a difficult one to answer, because every couple is different. However, with a good marriage counselor positive changes start already within a few sessions. You should quickly notice an improvement in how you understand your problems, and a deeper insight into yourself and your partner. Many couples have somewhere between 10 and 20 sessions overall and when you are dedicated to it it’s sometimes surprising how fast change can happen.
Do both partners need to be present? Having both partners present is preferable, but if one partner is unwilling to attend couple’s therapy, progress can be achieved with only one partner. Throughout the sessions both partners usually attend together. Occasionally the therapist might ask to meet with each person individually to be able to explore a certain issue in a deeper way. The new insights or tools will then be discussed jointly in the subsequent couple sessions.