“Couples Counseling” – You have probably heard about it, seen it portrayed in the media, and maybe you even know someone who has attended it; but, how much do you really know about couples counseling? In this blog, we are sharing 10 things that are important to know about couples counseling.
1 – What Is Couples Counseling?
The American Psychological Association defines “couples counseling” as a form of therapy that focuses on issues confronting relationships between partners (American Psychological Association, 2022). It is typically short-term, problem oriented therapy.
2 – Does Couples Counseling Work?
In short, the answer is yes. But let us elaborate: A 2011 article says that various reviews and studies have consistently demonstrated the effectiveness/efficacy of couples counseling (Gurman 2011). The author further states that couple’s therapy has been successfully used to help with couples distress and dissatisfaction and with individual disorders that impact and are impacted by the relationship. Gurman says that acceptance and change is the first step in saving a relationship (Gurman 2011).
3 – Working On Your Relationship Means Working On Yourself.
Without working on yourself, it’s pretty hard to work on your relationship. Fischer Baucom, & Cohen (2016) informs us that individual functioning and relationship quality influence each other. They go on to state the primary goal is to address the individual disorder. If the individual is experiencing things like depression, anxiety, or substance use, it will be hard to work together on the relationship together with their partner. Still, it is important to address the interpersonal context within which the individual problem occurs (Fischer et al, 2016).
4 – … But Couples Counseling Isn’t Just About You.
An individual problem can turn into a collective issue. Past hurts can affect the current relationship. Couples counseling can assist with alleviating relationship distress by addressing individual difficulties in a relationship context (Fischer, Baucom, & Cohen, 2016). Cognitive based therapies address the well-being of both partners as individuals, the couple as a unit, and the couple’s environment in which they exist (Fischer et al., 2016). Experts say, “A healthy relationship is viewed as one that contributes to the growth and well-being of both partners, forming a well-functioning team, and the couple responds adaptively to the demands and resources of their physical and social environment” (Fischer et al., 2016).
5 – You Need Empathy For Yourself AND Your Partner.
Showing empathy by understanding how the other person feels is crucial to the repair of relationships. The American Psychological Association states that “empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another person”, but too often people don’t want to feel empathy, primarily because they don’t want to make the mental effort to do so. This is true even when it involves feeling positive emotions. According to the APA (2019), individuals often feel empathy is mentally demanding or makes them feel insecure, irritated or distressed, causing people to avoid its use, even while working on their relationship. Empathy can be used as a tool for understanding and couples who are good at it have a better chance of fixing things.
6 – Communication Is Key!
Communicating wants/desires/needs is necessary. The Gottman Institute describes four communication styles that can hurt a relationship: Criticism (attacking your partner), Contempt (being mean/disrespectful), Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. Being able to effectively communicate is part of the antidote to each of these hurtful styles. When talking with our partners there must be mutual understanding and respect for each other if progress is to be made. Choosing our words before we speak makes it less likely that there will be something to apologize for later. According to Caroline Allen-Ross, LPC the presence of one or more of these communication styles per the Gottman Institute indicates a high likelihood that the couple is on their way to divorce. Couples Counseling is an opportunity to look at things a different way.
7 – Therapy Helps Explore Disappointments.
The relationship we have dreamed up cognitively (in our head) vs the relationship we have in reality are often two different relationships. Some common divorce indicators of couple distress are deficits in feelings of security, closeness, connectedness, shared values, trust, joy, love, physical intimacy, and similar other positive emotions that individuals typically value in their intimate relationships (Snyder & Balderrama‐Durbin, 2020). Frequently, these deficits are experienced as insidious and may culminate in partners’ disillusion or their dissolution of the relationship (Snyder & Balerrama-Durbin, 2020). This dissatisfaction (relationship reality vs perception) can lead to more issues and problems in the relationship if they are not addressed. Couples counseling provides a space to process this dissatisfaction and helps to identify how to move forward when things aren’t what was expected.
8 – Therapy Can Help You And Your Partner Try Something New.
Learning something new and learning from each other are both vital for repair and growth in your relationship. Effective treatment must take into account and employ cognitive, emotional, and behavioral interventions to appropriately address relevant concerns (Fischer, Baucom, & Cohen, 2016), many of which couples would not have known to try. One approach might be an intervention that focuses on altering targeted behaviors directly through skill-based strategies or communication training that focuses on decision-making or problem-solving skills to address problematic behaviors (Fischer et al., 2016).
9 – Happiness Comes From Within.
True happiness is internal not external. When looking to increase happiness personally and in a relationship, the first question that must be answered is “what is happiness to you?” It is important to know that true happiness is found within ourselves, and that we can’t rely on our partner to create it for us. We also must know how that relates to our interpersonal relationships. Chopik & O’Brien (2017) state how a person’s own emotional and physical well-being might also be affected by the happiness and health of their partner. They state that “People report better mood, greater happiness, and higher life satisfaction when surrounded by others who also feel positive, happy, and satisfied” (Chopik & O’Brien, 2017), so if you’re able to find your own happiness, it provides more hope for you and your partner to be happy together.
10 – … But It’s Not Enough To Just Be Happy.
Science shows us that satisfaction in a relationship is not just about making each other happy. Cauldwell (2020) states that measurement of couple relationships has traditionally focused on three variables: satisfaction, stability, and adjustment. “Satisfaction, or each partner’s positive emotional experience of the relationship; stability, or the likelihood of the couple remaining together; and adjustment, or the cognitive and behavioral adaptations couples make accommodations for the presence of the other” (Cauldwell, 2020).Without a long term commitment to stability and a willingness to adjust for the sake of the relationship, satisfaction is a lot harder to achieve. In this rare instance, The Beatles got it wrong – love is definitely not all you need.
Couples counseling is not a miracle cure for a failing relationship, but it has proven to be an effective tool with enough buy-in from both partners in the couple. It provides an opportunity for honest conversation about and exploration of difficult subjects. If you and your partner are ready to commit to working on your relationship, couples counselors like those at Garrett Counseling in Boaz, Huntsville, Jacksonville and Jasper, Alabama are prepared to assist you in making things work.
To read more about couples counseling, visit these articles:
- What Is Relationship Counseling?
- What Is Premarital Counseling & Why Is It Important?
- Should My Partner and I Go To Counseling?
This article was written by Salintha Washington, ALC (under the supervision of Leah Simmons (#3334)), Ben Lighter, ALC (under the supervision of Megan Campbell (#3120)), and Caroline Ross, LPC – mental health professionals at Garrett Counseling in Huntsville and Jacksonville, Alabama.
American Psychological Association. (2019, April 22). Empathy often avoided because of mental effort [Press release]. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2019/04/empathy-mental-effort
Chopik W. J. and Ed O’Brien, E. (2017). Happy You, Healthy Me? Having a Happy Partner Is Independently Associated With Better Health in Oneself. Vol. 36:21–30. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/hea0000432
Fischer, M.S., Baucom, D.H. and Cohen, M.J. (2016), Cognitive-Behavioral Couple Therapies: Review of the Evidence for the Treatment of Relationship Distress, Psychopathology, and Chronic Health Conditions. Fam. Proc., 55: 423-442. https://doi.org/10.1111/famp.12227
GURMAN, A.S. (2011), Couple Therapy Research and the Practice of Couple Therapy: Can We Talk?. Family Process, 50: 280-292. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1545-5300.2011.01360.x
Johnson, S. and Lebow, J. (2000), THE “COMING OF AGE” OF COUPLE THERAPY: A DECADE REVIEW. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 26: 23-38. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2000.tb00273.x
Schofield MJ, Mumford N, Jurkovic D, Jurkovic I, Bickerdike A. Short and long-term effectiveness of couple counseling: a study protocol. BMC Public Health. 2012 Sep 3;12:735. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-12-735. PMID: 22943742; PMCID: PMC3490822.
Snyder, D. K. and Balderrama‐Durbin, C. M. (2020). The Handbook of Systematic Family Therapy Volume 1, 1st Edition, Chapter 1.