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Couples Counseling – What is it? Who is it for?


Posted by Jared Anderson

What is Couples Counseling?

Couples counseling is a tool to help couples strengthen their relationship. Couples counselors are experts in understanding relationship dynamics—how they develop, how they get tangled and messy, and how to untangle and improve them.

A good couples counselor is kind of like a coach; they help each partner better understand their strengths and areas for growth while at the same time providing insights, exercises, strategies, and experiences that help partners work better together to strengthen their relationship.

You might hear various terms like couples counseling or couples therapy, marriage counseling or marriage therapy, or relationship counseling. To us, these terms are all referring to the same process—helping partners grow individually and together to develop a more connected, supportive, and meaningful relationship.

Here’s what you can expect from your first couples counseling session

Who is Couples Counseling For?

The short answer is anyone who is in a relationship!

Humans are imperfect, and when you put two (or more) imperfect people together conflict and challenges will inevitably emerge—this is especially true for couples. We are at our best and our worst with our partners. As a result, all relationships will go through times of difficulty, distress, and discontent. We have stressors bombarding us from all angles—work, parenting, extended family, community, politics, discrimination—that make our lives and relationships even more difficult to navigate!

Sometimes we can figure out a way through these difficulties and get back on track, but at other times the problems we face as a couple just get more entrenched and we don’t seem to make much progress despite our best efforts. So, if you are experiencing any of the following things in your relationship or life, couples and marriage counseling could be useful for you:

  • Little issues frequently escalate into arguments and fights.
  • You feel defeated—the same issues keep coming up repeatedly in your relationship and you don’t seem to be making much progress on them.
  • You feel like you are walking on eggshells—it seems like anything you say or do is wrong.
  • You feel disconnected, like you’ve lost your sense of togetherness, friendship, or partnership. 
  • You feel like roommates rather than partners and lovers.
  • You don’t feel like you’re on the same team and can’t find solutions that work for both of you.
  • Your sex life has become stale and boring.
  • You feel a sense of unfairness in the relationship, that you are shouldering more than your fair share of the responsibilities.
  • You’ve given up talking about one or more issues because they just lead to blow-ups.
  • You can’t work through your differences on how to parent, how to handle finances, or how to equitably share household responsibilities.
  • You’re feeling angry and bitter and not sure how to handle these feelings or what to do next.
  • You just found out about your partner’s infidelity or your partner just found out about your infidelity.
  • You don’t feel respected, loved, or heard.
  • Any of these life stressors that impact your relationship: mental health challenges, pregnancy loss and infertility, job loss or issues, racism and discrimination, political differences, in-law relationships, just to name a few!

These, and many other reasons, are what frequently lead couples to pursue couples and marriage counseling. In addition, here are 10 signs it might be time for couples counseling.

How can Couples Counseling be Beneficial?

Couples counseling is a vehicle that helps you and your partner develop the relationship you want. Research supports its effectiveness–couples generally leave therapy feeling less personal distress and find that their relationship is happier and more intimate.1,2,3 This is accomplished through a variety of ways, but some specific benefits to you and your partnership include:

  • Improved skills for having tough conversations
  • Improved skills for handling strong emotions
  • A deeper understanding of your own (and your partner’s) values, wants, and desires
  • A better understanding of how (and why!) you and your partner get triggered and how this leads to ineffective behaviors—and what you can do instead
  • Tools for deepening your conversations so you both feel heard and understood (even when you don’t see eye to eye)
  • A deeper connection and commitment, greater intimacy, and a stronger sense of togetherness

Couples counseling is for any committed relationship. It can be helpful for a quick relationship tune-up or a complete overhaul—and anything in between. Many people find it to be an experience that offers tremendous personal growth and insights, a better understanding of one’s relationship dynamics, and the tools to navigate relationship challenges that lead to a stronger, more connected relationship.

If you are thinking about couples counseling, here are some additional resources that might be helpful:[JA3] 

References:

Johnson, S. M., & Lebow, J. (2000). The coming of age of couple therapy: A decade review. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 26, 23-38.

Lundblad, A., & Hansson, K. (2006). Couples therapy: Effectiveness of treatment and long-term follow-up. Journal of Family Therapy, 28, 136-152.Rathgeber, M., et al. (2019). The efficacy of EFT and BCT: A meta-analysis. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 45, 447-463.

Rathgeber, M., et al. (2019). The efficacy of EFT and BCT: A meta-analysis. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 45, 447-463.