Does couples therapy really work?
Before giving up on your relationship and walking away, it’s important to consider that research shows a 75% effectiveness rate for couples that choose to participate in couples counseling and continue to apply the principles taught in therapy. There can be many different reasons for couples to consider trying couples counseling. Some of the most common reasons include:
- Having the same arguments over and over
- Ignoring or avoiding problems and never resolving ongoing issues
- Physical intimacy problems
- Blended families and co-parenting concerns
Not everyone’s problems will look the same, and involving a professional to effectively identify your specific issue is an important step. For example, you may enter couples therapy hoping to solve your differences in sexual desire. Your therapist may assess and help you discover that your sexual issues hinge more around broken trust and poor communication. In this case, therapy can help you and your partner learn healthy ways to communicate your needs and heal broken trust. As you share your concerns, your therapist will look for underlying, connecting themes such as the example given here.
What actually happens in couples counseling?
Going into your first session of couples counseling can feel intimidating at first. When relationships are rocky, we fear the risk of being vulnerable with our partner. It can also feel scary to allow someone into the personal details of your relationship. You may worry about sharing feelings that could start a fight or hurt your partner. Here’s what to expect in couples therapy and how it actually works.
Often the first session is spent learning more about each individual person and your relationship as a couple. It is important that your therapist or counselor gets to know each of you on a personal level. They may ask you about your childhood, your parents’ relationship, and details around how you met each other. While these details may seem insignificant to you, they are important to understanding your whole story.
At times we may meet with each person individually to assess issues and concerns that may be hindering you from having the relationship you desire; much of the time though, sessions will be together. You will learn effective ways to communicate your needs and also strengthen your ability to truly hear and respond to your partner in a validating manner. Often you will be given assignments that allow you to practice the very principles that are taught while we’re together. Be patient with the process and know that the more your therapist understands you and your partner, the better he or she will be able to guide you in making lasting change.
What if my partner refuses to go to counseling?
While it is ideal to have both you and your partner attend counseling together when addressing relationship issues, for different reasons it may just not be possible. Most people have heard horror stories from friends or co-workers who report that each week they and their spouse would go into marriage counseling only to start a fight, have the therapist sit and observe, only to leave and continue the fight in the car on the way home. These stories can create fear that the issues between you and your partner can grow bigger if you go to therapy. Other reasons your partner might not want to go to therapy; it’s scary to be vulnerable, they don’t know what to expect, they too are tired of the fighting and the way they cope with it is to withdraw, etc. Whatever their reason, it is best to respect your partner’s decision to not participate in counseling for the time being.
The fact that your spouse or partner doesn’t want to come to therapy doesn’t make it a deal breaker. Couples counseling for you may end up simply being individual counseling in the hopes of repairing or improving your relationship. Research has shown that when one enters therapy to address relationship issues and their partner chooses to not participate, it can be detrimental to the relationship. The reason being that one person is receiving support and guidance while their partner is left unchanged. This can be frustrating for both and can at times, facilitate a separation or divorce. Now, with that being said, not all hope is lost. We also get the opportunity to witness a number of positive shifts occurring in the relationships of our clients who come alone and feel a desire to do what they can to create positive change.
Can I do marriage counseling alone?
You can work on the relationship, alone, in marriage counseling. A trained couples therapist will be able to help you develop communication skills to decrease conflict, increase friendship and intimacy, and help you to find ways to start connecting with your partner on a more consistent basis. You might also explore with your therapist your relationship patterns, attachment styles and triggers, and gain insight into how you and your personal history may be getting in the way of you having the marriage you desire. Sometimes the non-participating partner will experience a desire to begin attending with their spouse, as they witness positive changes in the partner that has been attending therapy.
In couples therapy, our efforts are focused on helping each partner to feel deeply understood and then guide the couple to make necessary changes that will benefit the relationship. The couples we see range from those simply wanting to improve their connection to those dealing with the damage of infidelity and the consideration of divorce. We also offer premarital counseling. If you are still unsure if marriage counseling or couples therapy is for you, please reach out to our friendly staff today to schedule a brief phone consultation.