“You have to break a couple eggs to build an omelette.” ~ Unknown
Romantic relationships often bring people a sense of deep fulfillment, value, and happiness. The desire for intimate connection is hardwired within the human psyche but sustaining them in a healthy, committed, accepting, and gentle manner comes with a learning curve. No matter how in love you are with your partner, the reality is that conflicts, disagreements, and issues arise in any relationship. Couples counseling, or couples therapy, is a distinct type of counseling designed explicitly for intimate partners. Counseling for couples is an instrumental resource for improving, healing, and growing both individually and together within the dynamics of their partnership.
Relationships are the cornerstone of our existence, who we are and how we see ourselves, who we seek for a partner, and how we understand connection and love. Healthy, committed, safe, and lasting relationships do not evolve (solely) by the natural unfolding of circumstances. It takes a conscious daily effort from everyone involved to sustain the union. At Mindful Living Group, counselors and therapists understand how — and all too often — life events, differences, past experiences, changes, and intense emotions may cause strain on the relationship. Family and marriage counselors and therapists provide an informed, nonjudgmental and unbiased source of help, support, and guidance that can bring couples understanding, respect, and a deeper connection when each individual is fully committed to each other.
NOTE: The terms “couples,” “marital spouses,” and “partners” are interchanged throughout the article. When discussing relationship counseling or therapy, note that it can apply to any joining of intimate relationships.
Couples counseling and therapy centers on individuals within an intimate partnership. There are a variety of approaches that focus on the dynamics of partnerships and marriages. Often a therapist or counselor may utilize techniques from several different methods, creating a personalized therapy plan for the couples’ needs. A few frequently used models are:
- Imago Relationship Therapy
- Development Model of Couples Therapy
- Gottman Method
- Emotionally Focused Therapy
- Alternative-Relationships counseling
- Pre-marital counseling
People may seek counseling for various conflicts such as roles and responsibilities in the relationship, financial issues, and infidelity; more complex disharmony is often related to a combination of unresolved problems that have accumulated over several years, mental health disorders/illnesses, and attachment styles. For many, intimate relationships may trigger wounds, early life experiences, or unconscious behaviors to surface. Often, these pains create conflict within the relationship. Whether or not a person is aware of it, the connections we establish from birth are significantly influential in creating who we are, what we believe about ourselves and others, and how we receive and give love.
Many models of relationship counseling examine the relationships a person had with their parents or caregivers as they are often mirrored in intimate relationships as adults. In particular, Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT) is rooted in this concept. Imago is the Latin word for image, and in terms of IRT, it puts forward the notion of an “unconscious image of familiar love.” According to IRT, our unconscious mind creates a blueprint for our “perfect partner,” taking from our caregivers’ positive and negative traits and characteristics that are opposite of ours. Essentially, who a person chooses as a partner has the potential to cause (or uncover) the same wounds as their parents did. With the exception of abuse from caregivers and partners, this hurt is not intentional, even though it may feel as if it is. When taking into account conflicts, IRT champions a rather unique approach. It does not instruct couples on avoiding conflict or “fight better.” Instead, disagreements are viewed as a pivotal moment for insight, healing, and growth. Couples are encouraged to look into the conflict as a place for exploration and understanding deeper insights into themself and the relationship.
Contrary to common assumptions, couples counseling is not exclusive to relationships experiencing difficulty; it is an opportune service for couples who wish to continue improving and deepening their bond. Utilizing this asset – often done in pre-marital counseling – provides partners with skills to overcome adversity and respond as a team. Relationships are like homes; the Gottman Method uses an exceptional visual representation of a home to demonstrate the critical need for a strong foundation and “structures” for solid relationships. Even if the foundation is weak, it can be repaired if partners are fully committed to improving and remaining together.
What to Expect from Relationship Counseling or Therapy
When seeking out relationship counseling, it is essential to find a therapist or counselor specializing in this specific area, such as a licensed family and marriage therapist or counselor (LMFT, CMFT, LAMFT, MFT). The credentials and education of marriage counselors and therapists are distinct to identifying and providing guidance and support. Additionally, they receive training to detect domestic violence and/or emotional abuse and how to approach the issue without putting the victim (and themself) in danger.
Relationship counseling and therapy address an extensive list of problems couples may encounter. Despite the methods a counselor or therapist may use to approach a couple’s conflicts, initial meetings generally take the same route. When first meeting with a counselor, the couple may do so together or individually. The therapist will initiate the “getting to know you” process through questionnaires each person fills out, interviews, and other methods to assess the relationship dynamics. Discussions about each person’s objectives for counseling are an essential topic that may be brought up in the first few sessions.
The specific approaches and techniques a counselor or therapist chooses to use are at their discretion for what will be the most effective for the couple. Generally, two factors are taken into consideration, (1) the needs, dynamics, and structure of the relationship; (2) what services the counselor or therapist is trained in and can appropriately and effectively provide for the relationship. Aside from the approach used, there are common elements of relationships that are almost always a focus: communication, boundaries, safety, respect, trust, compassion, empathy, and validation.
Ironically, effective communication is something that does not come naturally to many people. Unfortunately, many issues may arise as a consequence, but there is a silver lining. Learning to communicate as soundly as possible. Counselors and therapists can teach couples how to express themselves and understand what the other person is saying. Active listening, mirroring, validation, and identifying love languages and attachment styles are commonly used among many models of marriage counseling.
Relationship counselors and therapists are not there to judge or pick sides. They provide support and guidance from an outside, neutral perspective and help couples navigate issues. Skills learned in counseling are able to be used even after you are no longer attending counseling.
What You and Your Relationship Can Gain From Counseling/Therapy
Researchers estimate couples tend to wait five to six years after conflict and problems arise before seeking out counseling. While it’s better later than never, a lot of anger, pain, withdrawal, and wounds can happen within that time frame. Relationship counseling or therapy does not have to be a “last resort” to saving a marriage. Many couples may reap benefits from seeing a counselor before conflicts arise or at the first bump in the road. Utilizing the knowledge and guidance a counselor can offer at any point in a relationship often strengthens the emotional and intimate bonds between partners, especially when used earlier on in the relationship.
You and your partner(s) are individual people. Differences exist, and allow for conflict to arise. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing. The damage to a relationship results from how each person responds to the conflict and the other’s differences. Counseling provides insight into each person and helps normalize differences. In doing this, couples are given a new way to perceive each other, accept each other more openly, and encourage growth in themselves and together as a partnership.
Couples counseling helps spouses create an environment where each person can express themselves completely, without fear of rejection by the other. Partners are able to grasp a better understanding of the dynamics of their relationship and if any of these areas are creating problems. Dynamics may include an unwanted power imbalance, how conflict is faced, if there is any problem-solving, parenting styles, financial values, future goals, and more. Additionally, couples are given an opportunity to see through each other’s perspectives, encouraging tremendous respect, empathy, and deeper connection.
Trust (or lack thereof) is frequently an issue among quarreling partners. Trust in your spouse is crucial to creating a functional, strong, loving marriage. Through the guidance and work done in counseling, the broken trust may be restored.
A benefit less talked about is developing and expanding one’s own self-awareness and personal growth. By understanding your own needs, wants, and values, you are better equipped to express these to your partner. Not only does it strengthen communication and intimacy, but it also helps enable each person to understand and set boundaries.
There are circumstances or situations where couples counseling or therapy is not beneficial, such as – abusive (emotional/physical) relationships in particular. Domestic violence and abuse cannot be fixed through this form of psychotherapy. For relationship counseling and therapy to be effective, ALL individuals involved must be fully committed to improving and creating a mutually equal and beneficial relationship. Abusive partners are not (admittingly) working towards equality and benefits for both sides. Couples therapy often involves addressing painful or negative emotions and behaviors, making it essential for each partner to have the ability to take responsibility and handle these intense emotions.
Abusive partners lack the skills to do this and place blame on, and retaliate against their partners more often than not. Your spouse’s behaviors are NOT your fault, and it is not your responsibility to help them change. You are responsible for yourself and any children involved. Seeking out professional support and services can be scary. There are various outlets and resources available to assist in your safety and healing.
Other factors that interfere with the effectiveness of relationship counseling include ongoing affairs, if one partner is not 100 percent committed to the marriage (partnership or relationship), and personal struggles such as unaddressed addiction(s) and mental health illnesses.
Find Help and Support Today
It is never too early or too late to seek couples counseling as long as all people involved are fully committed to improving the relationship, deepening the emotional connection with each other, and healing from previous experiences. Mindful Living Group’s ohana of professional, non-judgmental, and compassionate counselors and therapists include many marriage and family therapists for monogamous and polyamorous relationships.
Contact Mindful Living Group today to schedule an appointment.