We all know the stories in which the couple meets, falls in love, and lives happily ever after. If only it were that simple! However, the reality is that long-term, satisfying relationships take work. All relationships have their ups and downs. Problems, misunderstandings and hurt feelings are inevitable in any long-term relationship. The important thing is how do you, as a couple, deal with them?
Some couples avoid talking about problems, usually out of fear. They worry that addressing problems and bringing them out into the open will only make things worse. Of course, the ultimate fear is that talking about problems will inevitably lead to a painful breakup. Usually these kinds of couples express their feelings in more indirect ways. For example, one partner might shut down or give the silent treatment as a way to convey their upset and to have their needs attended to. However, not talking about problems can eventually cause couples to drift apart, often resulting in a lack of intimacy, affection, and mutual understanding – sometimes it can even lead to affairs. These couples haven’t learned that talking about their feelings in healthy and productive ways can actually bring them closer together and make them a stronger and happier couple. Thankfully, couples counseling can help these couples learn how to improve their communication and deepen feelings of closeness and intimacy.
Other couples can talk about their feelings, but do so in non-constructive ways. They might use provocative language, resort to blaming and criticism, say intentionally hurtful things or use a tone of voice or body language that undermines constructive communication. These couples can get into a hurt-and-be-hurt kind of communication. Problems aren’t resolved as much as one partner tries to win the argument over the other. These couples haven’t learned that talking about their problems requires sensitivity and empathy – that talking to your partner the way you want to be talked to is more productive than overpowering your partner with aggressive words and actions. However, this is easier said than done when you’re feeling hurt or angry, and you may require the help of couples counseling. With the help of a professional therapist, you can acquire the tools necessary for communicating in compassionate, non-aggressive ways so that you can begin to cultivate an environment of mutual respect.
How can couples counseling help me?
Common things couples struggle with often include sex, money, parenting, infidelity, not feeling understood, lack of closeness, or destructive arguing and fighting. However, these arguments are often really about needs not being met in the relationship. In therapy sessions couples have the opportunity to take a deep, introspective look at themselves and to get to the heart of the issues that are driving their arguments. Here’s an example:
After three years of marriage, Mary and John were finding themselves increasingly distant from each other. They stopped having sex and started to become more like roommates. John began fantasizing about having an affair with one of his co-workers while Mary devoted her attention to the kids. After starting couples counseling, Mary and John realized that unspoken hurt and resentment had had built up over time, resulting in each of them pulling back emotionally and looking outside their relationship to get needs met. Being able to acknowledge these feelings and communicate them to each other allowed Mary and John to reconnect emotionally, including the return of their sexual passion for each other.
How does couples counseling work?
Couples can benefit from outside help when problems come up around issues such as communication, intimacy, sexuality, parenting, or finances. Therapy can help couples address these concerns by:
- Creating a safe space in which to talk about difficult feelings
- Identifying and discussing problematic patterns that keep getting repeated
- Learning ways to improve communication
- Deepening understanding of each other’s perspective
- Developing more satisfying and enriching intimacy
Think of couple counseling as an investment in your relationship and a commitment to doing all that you can to make your relationship as fulfilling and as satisfying as possible. You and your partner can send yourselves a powerful message by deciding to seek help together, one which says that this relationship is important enough to put your time, money, and heart on the line. While it’s common for couples to feel anxious and perhaps a kind of defeat in deciding to see a couples’ therapist, the ultimate statement you are making is that you want to make this relationship work.
If we need couples counseling, does that mean we have a bad relationship?
People come in for couple counseling for a variety of reasons. Some couples are in a crisis or have specific issues they need help with, but they have difficulty constructively talking about the problem. These couples have a basically good relationship that needs help to either get through the crisis or to be more effective in resolving the problems that are going on.
Other couples have relationships in which there is not a good match or where problems have gone on for so long that it’s not really possible to salvage the relationship. For these couples, couple counseling can provide support to navigate the painful process of separating in as sensitive way as possible.
It’s also important to keep in mind that couple counseling is not just for relationships that are having problems. Many couples view couple counseling as an essential way to ensure that an already strong relationship remains strong. They make use of counseling as a “tune-up” or as a way to improve on what is already a committed and rewarding relationship.
Couples Counseling Can Help You Get Your Relationship Back on Track
As a therapist I help establish a safe space to talk openly and honestly about what is going on in your relationship. Respect and sensitivity are key components of this safe space. Our work may involve helping you to put your feelings into words so that your needs, feelings and perspective can be heard by your partner. It might also involve helping you hear what your partner is trying to tell you. Counseling can also help to identify patterns of relating that go back to your parents and early childhood, which can help free you from repeating problematic behaviors that you’re not aware of. Some couples are helped by homework assignments. Others need a safe place to practice new ways of communicating before they are able to do so on their own. Every couple is different, so what actually occurs in sessions can vary, depending on what is needed.
If you’re thinking about seeing a couples’ therapist, my advice is to do so now. The longer couples put off getting help, the more problems have a chance to grow roots and the more difficult it can be to work things out. Setting up an initial consultation will give you and your partner an opportunity to talk about what’s going on, and will give me an idea of how you interact as a couple. You’ll also have the opportunity to find out how I think and work with couples. If it feels like a good fit, we can then put together a game plan for moving forward. To ask any questions you have about my practice or to set up an appointment, contact me at (415) 255-6213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.