What is marriage counseling?

5 Easy Ways Couples Therapy Can Improve Your Relationship

Like individual therapy, couples therapy can come with a bit of a stigma. Many people may believe that couples therapy is something you only do if you're trying to save your relationship. However, couples therapy is actually a great way to build a strong foundation for the relationship you want to have, even at the earliest stages of your relationship. Premarital counseling and Relationship counseling can help you and your partner strengthen communication and build greater intimacy, understanding, and awareness.
When I tell people I'm a couples therapist, people tend to have lots of questions about this, like "Is couples therapy only a form of marriage therapy, or can it be offered to those seeking online dating coach before they are in a committed relationship?," "What is premarital counseling and how does it differ from couples counseling?" "Is online premarital counseling effective?"

I'll do my best to answer these questions and some of the most common curiosities people have about marriage counseling here:

When is the best time to seek couples counseling for your marriage?

You can seek counseling at any time in your relationship, even before you're married if you have the sense that there is room for you and your partner to improve your relationship. This could include improving communication, finances, chore-sharing, emotional intimacy, sex life, conflict resolution, or simply wanting to share personal development practices and have more quality time. It's never too early to seek counseling for your marriage if you want to bolster the foundation of your relationship. In other words, some couples start counseling as soon as they are in a committed relationship. Some couples may even start couples therapy as they are navigating a transition from dating or polyamory to exclusivity.

Why do people go to couples therapy?

Some common reasons people start couples counseling are: life transitions (i.e., new job, having a child, kids leaving the nest, a move,) the slow deterioration of intimacy and communication over time, infidelity, difficulties in their sex life, increased conflict due to a stressor (i.e., the pandemic, or stay-at-home orders), or patterns of fighting that feel cyclical or aversive.

What's the difference between premarital counseling and couples counseling?

Premarital counseling is a specific form of therapy that helps couples examine all aspects of their relationship and identify relationship goals before getting married. In contrast, couples therapy is a broader encompassing term that includes premarital counseling but often refers to an ongoing process of changing old patterns of conflict, building safety, deepening intimacy, and navigating life and relationship stressors.

What kinds of questions are asked in couples therapy?

A couples therapist may ask you and your partner about your relationship history - how, when, and where it started, and inquire about your general patterns of relating. The couple's therapist may ask each partner for their opinion about different aspects of the relationship, such as relationship strengths and weaknesses, to get a sense of where the couple may be aligned and where they may differ in how they view the relationship. The couples therapist may also request individual sessions and go through each partner's relationship history or ask about the relationship with parents and caregivers to understand more about each partner's attachment styles.

What are some questions to ask a marriage counselor?

When interviewing a marriage counselor, you may want to ask them about their style and approach, their orientation, and if there are any frameworks they use. For example, they may say their style is direct and aggressive, and they use an integrative, somatic, or relational framework. They may also give you specific frameworks such as Gottman Method or EFT. Listen to your instinct regarding how you feel about their answers to the questions about approach and style. Write down their answers to the framework question and do some internet research to see if you resonate with their frameworks. You can also ask about their credentials and background, rate, the expected frequency of sessions, and the general recommended length of counseling.

Can you get couples counseling when you are just dating and not in a committed relationship?

Absolutely. Many couples seek counseling to navigate transitions from one phase of a relationship to the next. However, couples therapy is most effective when there are agreed-upon boundaries between partners about the nature of their relationship.

What does a typical couples therapy session look like?

Couples counselors have different styles, orientations, and training - some may focus more on the emotions you are experiencing within the relationship or repairing attachment wounds and bonds. In contrast, others are more coaching-oriented, giving you forms, handouts, and tools. Still, others may draw primarily from mindfulness, CBT, or spiritual approaches, and many may blend all of these styles. Because of this, it's hard to quantify what a "typical" session looks like. Common elements in a couples session usually, but not always, include a check-in by each partner and then some time spent dissecting and discussing the couple dynamic.

What results can I expect to see from going to couples counseling?

  • Better communication, including better listening skills
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Increased understanding of your partner
  • Deeper intimacy
  • Higher self-awareness

What are the main benefits of couples therapy?

5 easy ways couples therapy can improve your relationship: 

  • Improved communication
  • Faster and better conflict resolution
  • Increased understanding of your partner + better listening skills (on both sides)
  • Greater intimacy and feelings of bondedness or closeness
  • Greater self-awareness

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q.1 Is couples therapy useful?
A. When one or both of you are dissatisfied with your degree of closeness, couples counseling can build more awareness, understanding, empathy, and intimacy. It can be tough for people to discuss personal matters, but a skilled therapist can steer the conversation in a way that should make you both feel more at ease discussing sensitive topics.

Q.2 Can therapy fix my relationship?
A. Relationship counseling can help any couple, including same-gender couples, long-term married couples, engaged couples, and dating couples. A therapist can help couples with anything from resolving financial concerns, parenting issues, a lack of affection or intimacy, infidelity, emotional issues, to substance abuse.

Q.3 What kind of therapy is used for couples therapy?
A. Behavioral and cognitive behavioral therapy, including ACT, CBT, M-BCT (mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy), Gottman, and mindfulness-based CBT, aim to change the thoughts and behaviors that lead to relationship issues. This style of therapy assists couples in identifying and changing harmful thinking and actions. Emotionally-focused therapy (EFT) and Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy (PACT) are forms of therapy that address and help resolve dysfunctional attachment patterns.

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