How Couples Counseling Can Help Your Relationship
Relationships are difficult. Finding tools to deal with conflict in relationships, knowing how work through difficulties and sometimes profound hurt that can occur in relationships, and also knowing when and how to best end relationships are difficult challenges that many couples face. Couples counseling gives partners a chance to explore in a safe environment some of these challenging relationship questions. A skilled couples counselor can help couples find more effective ways of communicating with each other and develop new skills to address areas where they are most stuck.
There are a number of benefits in couples counseling ranging from learning new tools to more skillfully address ongoing difficulties, enhancing intimacy, and helping couples on the verge of separation renew and rediscover the love they once shared. Very frequently, a relationship is not only saved but strengthened through couples counseling, emerging even more vibrant and alive than it had been in times past. And, at other times, a couple may decide together to end their relationship and a skilled therapist can help guide them through what can is often a challenging process in a way that is loving and respectful. Your couples therapist won’t dictate what is right for you in your relationship. There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer for relationships. Your couples therapist is there to collaborate with you and your partner in order to clarify and guide you towards developing the kind of relationship you desire.
What is the best type of counseling for couples?
The key to learning whether a certain type of therapy approach is helpful to individuals or couples is systematic evaluation of its effectiveness with a range of couples. If a couples therapy approach has been tested in randomized controlled trials and has been shown to be effective, it is called “evidence-based.” Therapists who provide evidence-based treatment use a variety of approaches to ensure that they are following the best evidence, based on careful research and evaluation.
Researchers have looked at over 40 years of research on couples therapy (Benson et al, 2012) and found that couples can benefit when they receive treatment that follows five underlying principles.
- Change the views of the relationship
- Impact problematic dysfunctional behavior
- Decrease emotional avoidance
- Improve communication
- Promote strengths
At Portland Psychotherapy, our couples therapists use approaches guided by these 5 principles.
What will I learn in couples therapy and why is it useful?
Often, couples come to therapy because they are unhappy or stuck, and despite usually a lot of effort, they haven’t been successful at resolving their conflicts. Maybe they have become disengaged and shut down emotionally, or have become overly argumentative. In these instances the primary job of the therapist is to assist in moving the couple from conflict to resolution.
That generally requires:
- Guiding the couple through a problem-solving process to resolution on each of their stuck points, and in a way that helps both partners feel supported and heard.
- Teaching the couple skills to handle any future differences together, without falling into the traps that lead to resentment, blame, disengagement and detachment or fighting.
- Providing skills to help keep intense emotion from derailing the positive feelings that each has for the other. This helps keep a positive and loving emotional tone between the couple, improves communication and reduces stress.
- Helping each to see how their early experiences contributed to bad habits and unhelpful behaviors and learn to detach in order to help prevent ongoing emotional escalation and reactivity.
But couples therapy can also be about helping couples continue to enhance and strengthen already solid relationships. Through couples therapy partners can discover ways to deepen the intimacy and connection in their relationship. Couples therapy isn’t just about “fixing problems”. It can also be a pathway to creating an extraordinary, sustaining relationship.
What can I expect during our meetings?
If you choose a couples counselor at Portland Psychotherapy, the first session with include a discussion of your reasons for coming to counseling and any goals you may have. The counselor will also ask you questions to learn more about you as a couple.
Questions might include :
- How long have you been together? What attracted you to each other?
- What was it like when things were good between you?
- When you fight/argue, do you resolve issues? How do you make up?
- What prompted you to come for therapy at this time? What changes would you like to see?
Typically, the first session with therapist will begin with discussing topics that are NOT the most difficult issues in your relationship. The format tends to help couples consistently create an atmosphere of safety and curiosity about how your partner sees the world.
You will also be supported in really listening to each other, without the fear of being blamed or criticized. The therapist will encourage each member of the couple to express themselves in a way that minimizes complaining, judging, or blaming, and focuses on identifying solutions.
When we open ourselves up to caring, we also open ourselves up to being hurt. Often those relationships that are most important to us also come with some difficult hurts and challenges. Couples therapy can be a place to help you explore what you would want in your intimate relationship if that hurt, or fear of being hurt, weren’t a barrier. Through couples therapy you and your partner will examine what is and isn’t working, explore what you would really want for your relationship, and provide you with concrete tools and skills to help you move in that direction.
To find out more or explore therapy options at Portland Psychotherapy
If you are interested in seeing one of our couples counselors, you can see more about them here. If you would like to ask a question about our couples and marriage counseling services, you can do that below.