Whether you’ve experienced a major breach of trust, or you’ve just gradually drifted apart over the years, going to couples therapy can help you break through the barriers that seem to be preventing your marriage from moving in a healthy direction.
Although hitting rock bottom in a marriage is usually accompanied by a strong sense of despair, this doesn’t have to be the end. If both spouses are willing to attend marriage counseling, this can be your first step towards healing. There is still hope.
Maybe you haven’t hit rock bottom, but your relationship has run into a few snags, and you want to get counseling as a proactive measure. Relationship counseling can strengthen your marriage, preparing you for obstacles you may face in the future.
Either way, this article will explain some of the dynamics involved in seeing a relationship therapist, problems that you can discuss in therapy, and how to make it work for you and your relationship.
No matter what your reasons are for asking, “Should we go to marriage counseling?” the fact is that you’re not just looking for answers; you’re looking for hope. Relationship counseling can help you uncover the root issues in your marriage and offer hope-based solutions for recovering intimacy and trust.
Why See a Relationship Therapist?
The specific reasons people seek relationship therapy are as diverse as the couples themselves, but in general, there are some common problems that lead to couples seeking help.
Although some people seek help quickly, making an appointment with a marriage counselor is often a last-ditch effort to save a relationship that’s been spiraling downward for a long time. Many times, couples seek therapy after years of marriage when they are unable to see eye-to-eye, or when things have gotten really bad.
There are a variety of factors and conflicts that lead to marriage problems, including:
- Issues with communication
- Disagreements over finances
- Problems in the sexual relationship
- Issues with parenting
- Crises such as abuse, anger, substance abuse, or affairs.
Seeking couples therapy is a commendable effort to save a marriage. If you’re looking for a relationship therapist, it means you’re willing to put in both time and money to try to improve or save your relationship. Even if you’re not sure if it can be saved, it’s usually worthwhile to make the effort and to be sure about your decision either way.
How Does Relationship Counseling Work?
Marriage and family therapists are specially licensed and credentialed for their work as Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists.
Couples counseling, according to Talkspace, comprises four main elements:
- “A focus on a specific problem (i.e. sexual difficulties, Internet addiction, jealousy)
- Active participation on the part of the therapist in treating the relationship itself, rather than each individual separately.
- Solution-focused, change-oriented interventions early on in treatment.
- A clear establishment of treatment objectives.”
Emotionally-Focused Therapy is one type of couples counseling that marriage therapists use frequently. The goal of EFT is to change the way the couple responds to one another emotionally. Rather than focus on behavioral outcomes, EFT addresses the way the couple’s interactions make each of them feel.
By changing the emotional response, often the behavior and relationship improve as well: “Unlike prior therapies which were directed at changing behaviors and thoughts, EFT leads to changes in emotional responses in a way that strengthens the emotional bond. The goal is to establish a more secure attachment.” (Psychology Today)
A secure attachment is the basis for any healthy relationship, whether with parents and children, friends, or spouses. Security equals trust, and trust is necessary for vulnerability and intimacy in the marriage relationship. EFT facilitates trust-building by focusing on the emotions needed for secure attachment.
Couples counseling, whether traditional marriage and family therapy (MFT) or EFT, focuses on the emotional and circumstantial problems in the relationship, solves the problems of poor attachment and/or relational issues, and has the goal of strengthening the relationship and bringing about positive change.
Marriage is a unique human relationship since it is so private and intimate. There are often issues that are difficult to discuss with other people, especially with both spouses present. High-stakes conversations can lead to arguments when things in the marriage aren’t going well, making it next to impossible to solve conflicts in a constructive way.
Couples counseling provides a safe, private, and structured environment to work through issues that might otherwise lead to arguments or emotional distance.
Also, attending couples counseling means setting aside a definite time to focus on the relationship (usually on a weekly or biweekly basis). Amidst the busyness and stress of everyday life, couples can drift apart without realizing it, and counseling provides a way to reconnect and prioritize the relationship on a regular basis.
Your relationship counselor might also assign “homework,” or activities to do between sessions, like spending time talking for at least 15 minutes twice a week, for example. Setting definite goals for your relationship and having accountability to reach those goals can help your relationship improve.
No matter what your reason for seeking out couples counseling, your sessions can provide a helpful framework for you to sort through relationship issues and decide on the next steps to take.
Do We Need Couples Counseling?
If you’re on the fence about getting marriage or relationship counseling, here are some issues to consider:
Has there been a significant breach of trust in your relationship?
A breach of trust isn’t just limited to infidelity, although that is definitely included. A breach of trust might be an emotional affair, online pornography addiction, or non-sexual issues such as financial betrayal, extended stonewalling, or lying about another issue.
Moving past a betrayal in marriage requires rebuilding trust, and that can be difficult to do on your own. Verywell Mind cites research outlining a five-step process that must be walked through in order for trust to be rebuilt:
- Knowing the details
- Releasing anger
- Showing commitment
- Rebuilding trust
- Rebuilding the relationship
It can be difficult to walk through this process on your own. The safety and structure of therapy offer a place to rebuild trust together with a qualified counselor to guide you.
Some other questions from Verywell Mind to ask yourself when wondering, “Do we need marriage counseling?” include:
- Did you marry at an early age?
- Did you not graduate from high school?
- Are you in a lower income bracket?
- Are you in an interfaith marriage?
- Did your parents divorce?
- Do you often criticize one another?
- Is there a lot of defensiveness in your marriage?
- Do you tend to withdraw from one another?
- Do you feel contempt and anger for one another?
- Do you believe your communication is poor?
- Is there a presence of infidelity, addiction, or abuse in your marriage?
The reason these questions are suggested is that they are issues that increase your statistical likelihood of divorce. It can help to focus on these areas to assess the health of your relationship and recognize problems that you could use help in solving.
Psychology Today offers a few other common issues that can be addressed in couples counseling:
- Increasingly frequent arguments
- Poor communication (conflict, misunderstandings, emotional distance, etc.)
- A sense that something is wrong
- There are things you’re having a hard time discussing
- Dysfunctional approaches to conflict
- A crisis or tragedy in your life that may impact your marriage
- Getting out of certain unhealthy patterns (could range from chores to conversation styles to other habits in the marriage)
- Lack of emotional intimacy
- Problems with physical intimacy
If any of these problems sound familiar to you, especially if you’ve tried and failed to address them successfully, marriage counseling might help. But what about really serious problems that have caused a crisis in your marriage? Verywell Mind outlines the “4 biggest marriage fails” that carry the highest risk of divorce:
- Adultery – physical or emotional
- Addiction – substance abuse, gambling, pornography, shopping, etc.
- Abuse – physical (i.e. domestic violence), verbal, emotional, mental, or spiritual
- Agendas – conflicting personal plans such as religion, wanting to move elsewhere or make big career changes, etc. with a lack of agreement or teamwork
It’s important to note that couples counseling (EFT) is not recommended for abusive relationships or separated couples. If your spouse is abusive, individual therapy would be a better and safer option. If your spouse is struggling with an addiction, couples counseling may be helpful if the addicted spouse has acknowledged the problem and is taking active steps to fix it (Psychology Today).
How to Get the Most Out of Couples Counseling
How can you show up in your sessions in a way that helps you get the most out of them?
Good Therapy recommends:
- Being fully invested in the counseling process
- Attending sessions with an open mind
- Being willing to hear other perspectives
- Working on your personal contribution to the relationship
- Making your appointments a priority; try not to let life get in the way
- Recognizing that you’re making a huge contribution to your well-being and your family’s future
- Being consistent with any homework your counselor suggests
Remember that you can’t control what your spouse does in response to counseling or attempts to repair your marriage, but you can focus on your own actions and what you’re bringing to the therapy process.
Seeking help for your marriage is a worthwhile effort, and often getting help from a qualified relationship therapist can be a turning point for your relationship. Don’t give up; there’s still hope for your marriage. Make your first appointment today and take a concrete step towards that hope.
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