FAQs about Couples Counseling

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How Do We Know if We Need Couples Counseling?

Our primary relationships—spouses, partners, or significant others—can literally make or break us, and yet even while they are so important, some people fall into the trap of believing that “real” relationships should come easily and naturally without external intervention. The irony of this belief is that it disregards the outside influences that already intrude upon the sanctity of our intimate connections—for better or for worse. Fittingly, it is common for some to feel more comfortable with couples counseling than others.

To help you decide if it is right for you, here are some common indicators for couples counseling:

Communication Conflict Connection
  • Not feeling heard and having to repeat things
  • Conflicts are avoided through humor or denial
  • At least one person feels the need for counseling
  •  Not feeling understood and having to explain
  •  Using friends/family to feel resolved
  •  Feeling like you have to fake it in the relationship
  •  Talking past each other about two different things
  •  Conflicts go unresolved and frustration is building
  •  Anxiety about emotional intimacy or vulnerability
  •  Using non-verbals to imply what you really mean
  •  Building resentment is turning into contempt
  •  Feeling empty or unfulfilled in the relationship
  •  Name-calling, blaming, shaming, one-sidedness
  •  Conflicts mostly end with win-lose or lose-lose resolutions
  •  Using substances or other “habits” to regulate emotions
  • Not participating or giving the cold shoulder
  •  One or both of you simply gives up or gives in
  •  Low-sex or no-sex relationships
  •  Assuming to know the other’s intentions without asking
  •  Conflicts around parenting style or other deeply held values
  •  Extra-marital emotional and/or sexual affairs

 What Can We Expect from Couples Counseling?

Couples counseling, relationship therapy, and marriage and family counseling take many forms, but most, if not all, are geared toward optimizing the connective and restorative aspects of our closest relationships. This view is supported by a 2012 review of 40 years of couples therapy research (Benson et al., 2012), which determined that, regardless of therapeutic approach, the 5 principles of the most successful couples techniques are:

  1. Fostering a more objective and adaptive view of the relationship within a greater context;
  2. Discouraging dysfunctional behaviors and stopping harmful ones;
  3. Decreasing avoidance of emotional engagement;
  4. Redirecting communication away from defensive, hurtful patterns toward understanding, supportive, and connective ones;
  5. Pointing out and encouraging strengths to promote enjoyment and value in the relationship.

I use a variety of approaches to couples, relationship, or marriage therapy to help couples achieve a healthy, functioning, enriching, and loving bond, which can then lead to stronger coping with the stressors of life and a less anxious state overall.

Whether you are concerned with communication, conflict, connection, sexuality, infidelity, parenting, or substance abuse in your relationship, I would like to help. And, the process of enriching interpersonal skills can help whether you are looking for pre-marital counseling, to revitalize your long-term commitment, to save your marriage, or for a cordial and compassionate separation or divorce.

Is It Necessary to Dig Up the Past?

While it isn’t necessary, it can be helpful.

It is clear that we can’t fix the past, and, especially for well-established relationships, it is essential to let go of old patterns that often include “you always” or “you never” statements. Therefore, therapy often looks to move forward by creating new patterns that help partners live more freely and fully within the relationship.

It is also clear that anything unresolved that hinders those forward steps may need to be cleared out to make room for a new understanding and trust. Plus, an awareness of how the past has shaped the present can be useful in understanding what changes will be most effective going forward. Furthermore, seemingly irrational statements and behaviors presently understood within the context of the past may be met with more compassion and empathy by partners who, without better information, may interpret such reactions as personally offensive, unfounded, or simply absurd.

Will Our Religious, Spiritual, or Nontheistic Values Be Respected?

I strive to be open to all religions and spiritual perspectives as well as nontheistic philosophies, and I do not attempt to replace or hold precedence over institutions that guide individuals, couples, or families in these matters. At the same time, some couples feel more comfortable using a confidential resource outside of their belief community, and sometimes, relationship counseling will uncover other emotional or psychological concerns that may require specific training and experience.

It therefore may be helpful to know that all relationship counseling has the basic intention of helping couples reach their self-determined goals for how they want their relationship to look and feel. It is not my job to determine what is right or wrong for clients or to steer anyone away from their life-affirming values and beliefs or towards my personal view. Moreover, I will often ask clients to speak about their belief systems and the strength it gives to the relationship regardless of how it fits or not with my personal beliefs.

What if Our Relationship Looks Different?

As with belief systems, community and cultural identity, norms, and values are respected within the couples counseling process. I strive to be aware of my biases, learn about cultures and experiences outside of my own, and look to clients to determine what is fitting for them according to the values and norms of their identified community or culture. Methods of engaging with couples can almost always be adapted to fit the specific needs of clients, and on the rare occasion that I feel unqualified or unable to work around a bias, my clients are given appropriate referrals.

Does Seeking Counseling Mean that We Are Not Meant to Be Together?

By nature, we are drawn to engage with other people in ways that help us cope with a world that is sometimes harsh, scary, or unfair. We are also designed to feel deeply connected and securely attached through unconditional love and affection. Unfortunately, we all have had experiences that leave us guarded against the pains of abandonment, rejection, judgment, and neglect. These guards keep us from fully connecting to the ones that we love most and that can hurt us the most.

The good news is that while sometimes people hurt people, many times people help to heal each other. So, perhaps a better way to see counseling is as a shared commitment to restore each others’ true loving nature and recover what is truly meant to be.

Isn’t Couples Therapy Expensive?

Because research strongly suggests that the quality of our relationships plays a role in our mental and physical health, the indicators at the top of this document could be signs that your marriage, domestic partnership, or polyamorous relationships may be affecting your overall quality of life. A better question to ask yourself may be whether you want to invest in your future now or be drained by it later.

In the end, you get out what you put into a relationship and into therapy. Investing in a process that helps you become more open, aware, authentic, comfortable, assertive, and compassionate can have life-long and life-changing returns. The sooner you commit, the greater the return.

In Summary:

It is my hope that those who are seeking the treasures of what this life can bring find their way, either through the help of a counselor or not, to their true loving nature, devoid of all pretense, defense, and reticence. I believe that we are built to love and that love replaces fear. I consider it a privilege to sit with couples in their most vulnerable moments of striving for unconditional love and reviving their faith in the unfettered expression of self, love, and humanity.

Citation:

Benson, L. A., McGinn, M. M., & Christensen, A. (2012). Common principles of couples therapy. Behavior Therapy, 43(1), 25-35. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2010.12.00

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