What is Marriage Counseling & Couples Therapy?
While couples therapy focuses on past problems and patterns, marriage counseling helps couples work through current issues. However, the lines between these therapies can bleed over frequently. For example, a couple may believe the problem is recent, then discover in counseling that the roots of the issue took hold years ago.
Most often, couples see specialized mental health professionals called marriage and family therapists for couples therapy. In both types of sessions, professionals work with couples to get them to happier, healthier emotional spaces. Couples may work on communication, coping, and behavioral patterns.
Some couples go to therapy at the first sign of trouble. This approach can make marriage counseling particularly effective by preventing issues from getting worse. Couples may even go to sessions as upkeep to make sure things in their relationships run smoothly.
Other couples may not think to go to counseling until both parties are at their wits’ ends. The good news is that marriage counseling can be an effective way to save a relationship on the verge of ending.
No matter when clients decide to seek professional help for their relationship troubles, one factor remains the same: it only works when both people do the required work. As dedicated and intelligent as marriage and family therapists are, they require the clients to take their lessons home and practice them.
Many people worry that marriage counseling won’t work, even if they want it to. However, 97% of marriage counseling clients reported that they got the help they needed. It’s important to think about what it means for marriage counseling to “work.” In many cases, it means saving the relationship and making it healthy for all. However, sometimes divorce is the right option and the only way for all parties to feel happy again. Counselors help guide couples to that decision but cannot make it for them.
Signs Your Relationship Couple Benefit From Seeing a Therapist
Anytime a couple feels as though they could benefit from couples therapy, they should attend a session. However, it can be difficult for couples in crisis to see how bad things truly are. If you see any of these signs, you may benefit from seeing a marriage counselor:
- Adultery: If either person has crossed the boundaries that both parties agree to for the relationship, marriage therapy may help. Furthermore, if either person considers or fantasizes about an affair, they can benefit from therapy.
- Negative or Absent Communication: Couples need counseling if they have stopped communicating in healthy ways. This may mean that they talk down to one another, criticize constantly, or only talk about necessities.
- An Identified Problem: Sometimes couples know exactly what their issue is, but they simply do not see a solution. While therapists cannot give exact solutions, they can guide couples to the answer that works for them.
- When Separation Seems Inevitable: When couples fight every day or cannot communicate their differences, it can feel as though they are barreling toward separation or divorce. If things feel like this, it’s time to see a counselor.
- Other Important Issues: Ultimatums, withholding affection as a punishment, viewing your partner as an enemy, and intentionally keeping secrets all point to trouble. If either party exhibits toxic behaviors like these, a counselor can help.
What to Expect in Couples Therapy?
Starting couples therapy is a significant step in the life of a relationship. As such, clients often feel nervous before their first sessions. Understanding what to expect from couples therapy can help ease those nerves.
Some counselors prefer to speak to each person individually in the first session. This helps the professional understand what each person wants from the treatments. Other therapists may choose to ask these questions with the couple together.
After the first session lays the groundwork, the subsequent meetings help solve the issues that brought the couple into therapy. Sometimes, the conversations may lead the couple into places they didn’t expect.
Often, couples counseling is uncomfortable, sad, or frustrated. After all, they talk about deeply personal things. However, it’s essential to remember that the counselor understands this and creates a safe space to express those feelings. After the pain, many people feel better just for having shown themselves.
Couples should not expect the counselors to pick sides or settle debates. These professionals act as neutral third-parties who moderate, not dictate. Therapists also assign “homework,” or items for clients to work on in between sessions.