Three Practical Tips for Couples Counseling
At Couples Therapy Associates, we believe the decision to seek out couples counseling and marriage therapy represents a positive moment in time for a relationship and speaks to the desire to create meaningful change and for two people romantically linked.
This brief article will offer three couples counseling tips to people in Chicago and elsewhere to consider before making the important first call to a couples counselor, which will hopefully help you maximize the benefits of the couples therapy process.
Before revealing the three suggestions for couples counseling, let’s take a quick look at some of the main reasons people seek out relationship therapy in the first place.
Need for couples therapy
There are a number of reasons why a given couple may decide to seek out the help, guidance and assistance of a couples therapist.
What follows are some of the main reasons with a brief discussion under each area.
Flash point argument
Most commonly, the desire to seek out couples therapy (couples counseling) happens as the result of a significant fight or argument between two people during the course of a romantic relationship. Many people call this a “flash-point” or “tipping point”.
Another reason many couples seek out couples counseling relates to infidelity. In these situations, one or both individuals have “stepped out” in a way that violates previously agreed upon rules. In plain-speak, we are talking about cheating. Infidelity comes in a number of forms, including physical, emotional and sexual.
Pattern of problems
Finally, as a kind of catch-all, many people decide to seek out couples counseling because one or both parties in the relationship have identified a pattern of behaviors over the course of time. Examples can include communication problems, money problems or challenges with intimacy.
Other causal factors precipitating the need for couples counseling can include bullying behaviors, control tactics and even abuse. There are many other reasons not listed under this section but the main idea is that people often seek out relationship counseling because of a pattern, which in many cases is toxic.
Going to couples counseling
If you have been thinking of contacting a couples counselor because of the reasons listed above, it may be a good idea to do some advance work prior to making that initial call to a therapist.
Here are three tips to help you get the most out of the couples/marriage counseling process and potentially save you time and money.
1. Talk about couples counseling
Before making an actual appointment with any couples therapist for relationship counseling, it is vital that you have a meaningful, substantive conversation with your significant other and agree about the need for counseling.
This point is being shared here because in many situations, one person in the relationship will call up a marriage therapist or other couples specialist and book an appointment for an office visit without first getting the buy-in from the other person in the relationship. The end result usually causes the other party to feel blindsided. Worse, it can throw a negative light on future prospects of entering couples therapy.
The benefit of talking to your significant other about couples counseling is that both of you have agreed to take positive steps towards change related to jointly identified problem areas.
Bonus Tip: It will do you and your relationship no good if your significant other feels as if they are being “dragged” to therapy. For couples counseling to truly work, both individuals ultimately need to be emotionally present and open to change.
Finally under this point, if you make an appointment with a couples therapist, you have asked that counselor to put aside an hour or more of their time for you and your relationship. Therapists generally book appointments by the hour. If you have to cancel your appointment because your significant other feels blindsided, you have caused that counselor to become unavailable to other clients who may have wanted that time slot.
Remember, counselors work by the hour and are not like a medical doctor where a physician can see 3 people in 15 minutes. Once you book an appointment, that hour is considered yours.
2. Identify goals for counseling
After you have talked to your husband, wife, girlfriend or boyfriend about going to couples counseling, it will be helpful for both of you to identify shared goals for the couples counseling process. While the two of you may have different ideas about what you want to get out of the experience, there is usually a link that threads goal “themes” together.
Some examples of goal themes include:
– Improving communication
– Learning to “fight fair”
– Increasing intimacy
– Becoming unstuck
– Negotiating boundaries
– Issues with children
These are just but a few goals. Remember, the idea is to look for common bonds instead of exact goal sets. The major benefit of identifying goals for couples counseling in advance of the first appointment is that both of you will know what you are looking to work on as a couple.
This simple point can save you both time and money during the lifespan of the relationship counseling experience.
3. Agree on a couples therapist
Now that both of you have agreed to go to couples counseling and have identified a few goal themes, it will be important for you to find a couples counselor that both of you feel will be a good “fit” for your situation.
Ideas to explore here include deciding if the therapists gender is important. For example, does one person in the relationship feel it would be more beneficial to see a female counselor? If you are same sex couple, is it important for you to see a gay therapist?
Finally and perhaps most importantly, decide upon which type of approach will work best for your relational needs. For example, some therapists are very interactive. Others couples counselors are more directive in nature.
There are also relationship counselors who take a more observational role, simply letting the couple talk while they listen. And so under this point, it might be a good idea to find out how the therapist approaches the couples counseling process.
Generally speaking, looking for a marriage therapist or couples counselor who uses an integrative approach (eclectic approach) is a fairly safe bet. Here, the couples counselor will employ a variety of techniques and modalities during counseling, which can be adjusted to fit the needs of the dynamics happening within the relationship.
Bonus Tip: A good couples counselor will usually assign some type of homework that both parties in the relationship can work on as a way of creating real change in the here now.
The decision to seek couples counseling can mark a moment in time for positive change. When both parties in the relationship agree to work with a relationship counselor, the process of healing begins in that moment and the ability to create long lasting, significant change takes flight.
By following the three tips here for couples counseling, you will be making the couples counseling process smoother for yourself, more productive for the therapy process and ultimately, more impactful on your relationship. If you would like to read more about marriage counseling and couples counseling, consider reading the article: does marriage counseling work?