How to Get the Most Out of Couples Counseling
In today’s modern society, scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok is a common pastime for many Americans. It’s natural to feel alone in your marital struggles when so many couples post picture-perfect snapshots of their relationship online. Rest assured that every relationship has its challenges, regardless of how perfect a couple may appear on a social media account.
Fortunately, the mental health stigma has been in decline as more and more Americans turn to therapy or counseling to work on both personal and relational issues. Professional guidance can be a huge advantage to your marriage, as a therapist can help you and your partner delve deeper into your relationship and pinpoint underlying causes that may be contributing to conflicts between you.
What Is Couples Counseling?
Couples counseling, also known as couples therapy or marriage counseling, is a form of psychotherapy that can help two partners improve their relationship. Couples therapy can assist a marriage in various ways, such as:
- Helping spouses overcome a breach of trust (such as infidelity)
- Helping a couple work through a major life event (such as relocation, being diagnosed with a chronic illness, infertility, or grieving the loss of a loved one)
- Helping one or both partners navigate a mental health condition (such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD)
- Assisting one or both spouses to overcome addiction or substance abuse
- Helping a couple develop healthy conflict resolution skills
Types of Couples Therapy
Whether you’re seeking counseling as an individual or as a couple, therapy is never a “one size fits all” situation. Luckily, there are various types of counseling that couples can choose from. This means that you and your spouse can choose a form of counseling that works best for your unique needs and goals.
To give you a general idea of the various options for couples counseling, here are some of the most common forms of psychotherapy for married partners:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This popular form of therapy concentrates on the concept that our thoughts control our behaviors. It’s often used to treat individuals with mental health conditions (such as anxiety or depression) and help couples exercise better communication and learn conflict resolution skills.
- The Gottman Method. This form of counseling focuses on destructive behaviors to disarm conflicting communication, increase intimacy, reduce stagnancy, and increase empathy and understanding in the relationship. This method is known for its ability to improve intimacy and relationship quality for couples.
- Discernment counseling. This type of therapy is often a short-term approach for couples in which one partner wants to work on the relationship, but the other is unsure or unwilling. This form is intended to help couples explore all the available options to make a confident and well-informed decision about the future of their relationship.
- Emotion-focused therapy. This form of counseling is twofold: 1) both partners will share specific problematic events in the relationship; then 2) the therapist works with the couple to work through underlying emotions that are contributing to the problematic events. This therapy type is known for its effectiveness in improving overall marital satisfaction.
- Imago relationship therapy (IRT). Commonly known as the Imago Method, this type of therapy helps a couple view relational conflict as separate from their circumstances. It promotes a focus on the conflict itself and aims to equip couples to achieve conflict resolution.
- Narrative therapy. This form of counseling relies on externalization to identify and treat marital problems. It challenges a couple’s belief that marital issues are an inevitable component of our relational identity, and thus helps spouses discern conflicts disguised as truths.
- Solution-based therapy. This form of therapy is typically short-term and goal-oriented. It often works best for spouses who are working through a specific problem (as opposed to a range of problems). This type of counseling is credited with reducing "couple burnout" and equipping the couple to envision and achieve positive change.
5 Ways to Make the Most of Couples Therapy
As you probably already know, it isn’t enough to sign up for couples counseling. Like any form of therapy, marriage counseling is only effective when both spouses are willing to invest the energy and effort to rebuild, reconnect, and heal.
Keep reading to learn 5 ways to get the most out of couples therapy.
#1. Enter into counseling as a partner, not an individual.
When starting couples therapy, it's common (and normal) to approach counseling to feel more understood by your spouse. While this isn't an unhealthy goal to have, it's equally important to approach counseling with your partner's needs in mind, too.
In order for your partner to better understand you, it’s necessary for you to understand your partner, too. Like most things in a healthy relationship, marriage counseling is a two-way street. While it’s okay to desire things from your partner, commit to learning and fulfilling their needs, too.
It’s absolutely fine to set your own personal goals for therapy, but it’s in your best interests to enter into counseling as a partner who is part of a whole rather than an individual with separate interests. After all, you and your spouse are in this together.
#2. Be willing to leave your comfort zone.
Sharing your emotions can be uncomfortable. For some personality types, talking about feelings is the last thing a partner wants to do. However, to make the most out of couples therapy, it’s imperative to be intentional in sharing your thoughts and emotions.
The effectiveness of couples counseling often hinges on one thing: are you all in, or all out? To see results, both partners need to be present, actively engage with each other and the therapist, and commit to being honest and vulnerable.
If you can dedicate your full effort during sessions, you’re more likely to achieve the goals that led you to couples counseling to begin with. While couples therapy can feel uncomfortable or awkward, especially in the beginning, your ability to trust and commit to the process can work wonders for your marriage.
#3. Prioritize your sessions.
Actively participating in couples counseling sessions is required to achieve true change in your marriage. However, it's also important to prioritize your time together in therapy and make the most of your investment (both financially and emotionally).
Like most solutions in life, it takes time to see results through therapy. In order for the process to work, both spouses must prioritize their appointments and view the journey for what it is: a process.
While daily life can get hectic for married couples—especially if you’re juggling kids, crazy work schedules, or extracurriculars—making your sessions a priority will not only boost your odds of success, but show your partner that you’re open and willing to work on the relational issues you share.
#4. Understand that therapy doesn’t end after each session.
For therapy to work, a couple must be willing to work on their marriage outside of the therapist’s office. Change doesn’t happen overnight. An important step of couples counseling is learning how to navigate obstacles on your own without professional intervention—and that begins outside of your sessions.
In some instances, your counselor may assign you and your spouse “homework” to do between appointments. Even if this isn’t the case, it’s crucial to practice the skills you learn in therapy in your day-to-day lives if you wish to get the most out of your couples counseling sessions.
#5. Never lose sight of your shared goals.
Remember, the purpose of couples therapy is to benefit your relationship. For marriage counseling to be successful, you must never lose sight of the fact that you and your partner are one unit.
It’s unconstructive for either partner to use appointments as a venting session or an opportunity to list the many ways they want to change or “fix” their spouse. Rather, it’s most beneficial for a couple to approach counseling in the same way they entered into marriage: together.
Keep in mind that your therapist isn't there to take sides, point fingers, or assign blame. Your counselor's intention throughout therapy is to align themselves with both you and your partner and empower the two of you to overcome issues that are deteriorating your relationship. Simply put, it’s essential to never lose sight of your shared goals as a team.
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