Learn / Healing Together: How Couples Counseling Can Help

Healing Together: How Couples Counseling Can Help

Sarah Shawaker
 January 31st, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Your partner is there with you through thick and thin. They celebrate your greatest achievements and support you when the going gets tough. But no relationship is perfect—there will always be ways to improve your dynamic. And some issues are too big to handle alone. If you and your partner are hitting a wall, it might be time to start couples therapy.

What Happens in Couples Counseling?

Relationships can be hard. Sometimes you need outside help to reconnect with each other. Thankfully, couples therapy can be a hugely effective solution. In fact, data shows that couples therapy increases relationship satisfaction1 in up to 75% of couples.

In most cases, your first session will focus on your reasons for starting therapy. This lets your therapist learn about your relationship dynamic. Most couples counseling also includes individual sessions so you can openly discuss topics you may not be ready to talk about in front of your partner.

In the following sessions, you’ll dig deeper, learning about the root causes of any interpersonal issues. You’ll also practice new communication skills, which can help you apply these lessons outside of therapy.

Couples counseling sessions are tailored to address your needs. You can even look for a counselor who specializes in your concerns. For example, some couples therapists treat LGBTQ+ relationships, polyamorous relationships, and other nontraditional dynamics.

There’s no set timeline for couples therapy. You may see major improvements after just a few weeks, or it may take months to achieve results.

What to Talk About in Couples Therapy

You can talk about any topics you’d like in couples therapy. Remember, your therapist is there to help you explore difficult issues. Treatment is most effective when you share your deepest concerns. Many couples enter therapy to talk about these sensitive subjects:

  • Communication problems
  • Finances
  • Intimacy issues
  • Children and family dynamics
  • Emotional distance

Nothing is off the table. You might even find yourself talking about issues you weren’t planning to bring up. Through empathetic communication, counseling can help you and your partner find common ground.

Common Misconceptions

If you’re new to relationship counseling, you might not know what to expect. This treatment can be very different from the way it’s portrayed in the media. And it’s easier to prepare for therapy when you know what you should actually expect.

Misconception #1: The therapist will take one partner’s side.

Your counselor is an unbiased 3rd party. Their job is to mediate and help you resolve relationship issues. A good therapist won’t side with you against your partner, or vice versa.

Misconception #2: The goal of couples counseling is always to save the relationship.

Therapy helps clients improve their lives. In this context, your counselor will help you and your partner understand each other better. That knowledge can tell you whether your needs align with theirs. And there’s always a chance you’ll both be happier if you go your separate ways. Your therapist won’t try to convince you to either stay together or separate. This decision is ultimately yours. But treatment can help you decide on the best course of action.

Misconception #3: Going to therapy means something is wrong, either with you or with your relationship.

No relationship is ever perfect. Choosing to go to therapy shows that you and your partner are willing to grow as people. It demonstrates that you care about each other and about your relationship. And whatever happens next, that commitment is meaningful.

Different Approaches to Couples Therapy

Every person is unique—and so is every relationship. Just as there are different types of individual therapy, there are many ways to approach couples counseling.

Emotion-Focused Therapy

Emotion-focused therapy (EFT) focuses on the idea that our feelings are at the core of our relationships. This treatment helps patients develop their emotional intelligence.

In each session, your therapist will guide you to reframe the feelings attached to past experiences. This process helps you and your partner address unmet emotional needs through compassionate listening and sharing. Data shows that EFT reduces relationship stress,2 making it highly effective for couples.

The Gottman Method

The Gottman method3 uses the metaphor of a house to describe interpersonal dynamics. In each session, you and your partner will map out the structure of your relationship. Over time, your therapist will guide you to explore the different “floors” of your “house.” You’ll start with a strong foundation, and build toward a sense of mutual admiration and trust. This treatment fosters flexibility and emotional stability.

Treating Addiction With Couples Therapy

If you or your partner has addiction, couples counseling can be an important part of treatment. Addiction affects every part of life, including work, finances, and health—and intimate relationships. On the flip side, stress from a relationship can leave you more vulnerable for substance use.

Ammet Braich, Clinical Director at Camino Recovery, emphasizes that “people aren’t created in a vacuum. The things that shape us in our lives, the personality that we are and the closest people around us have a big effect.” By looking at the role your inner circle plays in your life, you can get to the root of addiction.

Healthy boundaries and clear communication both support long term recovery. And couples therapy teaches you these skills. Relationship counseling, alongside other treatments, reduces drug use and improves relationship satisfaction.4

Is Couples Therapy for Everyone?

Couples therapy is helpful for many relationships, but it’s not right for everyone. For one thing, it’s important for both you and your partner to commit to healing. If one of you is resistant to the idea of counseling, it probably won’t be as effective. But you can’t force your partner into treatment.

What’s more, this therapy can’t replace other treatment methods. For example, if one or both of you have addiction or another mental health diagnosis, couples therapy might not be enough. But it can be a helpful addition to your care plan. Couples counseling helps you set sustainable boundaries, easing the recovery process for all involved. It can also help you work through related issues, like codependency.

Healing Your Relationship—and Yourself

Couples therapy isn’t only a way to work on your relationship. It can also clarify your personal values. And the better you know yourself, the more easily you can build a relationship that meets your needs.

Explore centers with couples therapy to see program information, read reviews, and see if this treatment is right for your relationship.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

  1. Lundblad, A.-M., & Hansson, K. (2006). Couples therapy: Effectiveness of treatment and long-term follow-up. Journal of Family Therapy, 28(2), 136–152. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6427.2006.00343.x []
  2. Dessaulles, A., Johnson, S. M., & Denton, W. H. (2003). Emotion-focused therapy for couples in the treatment of depression: A pilot study. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 31(5), 345–353. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180390232266 []
  3. Davoodvandi, M., Navabi Nejad, S., & Farzad, V. (2018). Examining the effectiveness of gottman couple therapy on improving marital adjustment and couples’ intimacy. Iranian Journal of Psychiatry, 13(2), 135–141. []
  4. Fals-Stewart, W., O’Farrell, T. J., & Birchler, G. R. (2004). Behavioral couples therapy for substance abuse: Rationale, methods, and findings. Science & Practice Perspectives, 2(2), 30–41. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851021/ []

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