Discussing issues and concerns happening in a marriage or relationship is scary. Talking to a stranger, who doesn’t know the history of me and my partner can be terrifying. A few common thoughts many people have had before entering into marriage or couple’s counseling are: how do I share thoughts and feelings without throwing my spouse or partner under the bus? What if the therapist sides with my spouse or partner and they tell me I have to change while my partner doesn’t have to change anything about themselves? What if the therapist, discounts my feelings because I am a stay-at-home parent and my spouse or partner is the breadwinner? The therapist will think I am a terrible person because I don’t want to engage with my spouse.
The purpose of this blog is to answer questions and make the process of deciding to enter into marriage or couple’s counseling easier. It is a difficult decision whether to seek help or end the relationship. First thing to know is that the actual client in the room is not one partner or the other but the relationship. This means the therapist will not let any partner speak derogatorily or harm their client (the relationship). They will not take sides but help both partners see how they could improve their communication, conflict resolutions, or regain trust with their partner for actions taken during the relationship. Second thing to keep in mind, is no therapist, no matter how highly recommended they are, can solve all issues in one or two sessions. Healing takes time. How much depends on how well the skills developed in session are used outside of the therapy session. Couples come to therapy at various stages in their relationship. No two couple is the same. Therapy will look differently for each couple.
What happens during a typical first session? After preliminary review and discussion of the intake forms, the therapist will find out how the two met and gather a brief history of their relationship. Then the therapist facilitates a discussion around the reasons for counseling. Communication and conflict concerns are the two biggest reasons most couples seek out counseling. Many come because of an infidelity. The infidelity could be physical or emotional. Whatever the reasons, the therapist will utilize this information in order to tailor a treatment plan for the couple. It is not used as a means to assign blame. An infidelity is a symptom of what has been happening in the marriage. Most often there has been a major trauma and disengagement before the individual engaged in the affair. Exploring how the two parties came to be sitting in the room and examining each partner’s daily stresses is part of healing the rupture in the relationship. High performing professionals have different stresses than a retired couple. Each stress must be processed properly or they will continue to cause distress in the relationship and lead to relational disharmony.
The therapist will provide a short overview of the areas they see needs improvement and provide a quick treatment plan for the first few sessions. These often include providing assistance in improving the couple’s communication patterns, teaching conflict resolution skills, problem solving skills, providing de-escalation tools, or helping with intimacy or trust concerns. The therapist may provide assessments to understand how conflict occurs or how each partner feels they are being seen or heard by the partner. How well they compromise with their partner. These assessments are short and easy to fill out. Honest responses help the therapist direct treatment. Treatment plans are reassessed after each session.
Much of the focus in marriage or couple’s counseling centers on understanding perspectives. Most couples think that to resolve a conflict, one partner must be right and the other wrong. Nope! Being in relationship with another person means learning to see the other person’s perspective. This doesn’t mean we must agree with them; it just means we can see their side and work towards finding a compromise between the two perspectives. Learning to actively listen, reflect, and summarize what your partner is saying helps improve overall communication among couples. Encouraging each partner to bring concerns to the therapy room and helping the couple find resolutions that make sense for their relationship is another major focus of counseling. Identifying individual needs as well as developing a couple’s identity is another major component of marriage or couple’s counseling. Once a couple has a family, they often do not have time for each other. All leisure time is spent on family activities. In healthy relationships there are four types of self-care time that needs to occur weekly. Individual self-care, couple’s self-care, family self-care, and extended family/friend’s self-care. Without individual and couples’ self-care time, irritation rises and unfortunately our significant other ends up becoming the recipient of the anger.
If you are feeling marital unrest, coping with an infidelity, or needing strategies to improve your relationship call, text, or email me for a free consultation.