Can Counselling Save My Relationship?
Sometimes problems in a relationship get worse no matter how hard you try to resolve them. Asking for professional help doesn’t have to be the last resort. Couples counselling can teach you how to communicate your needs more efficiently, work around your differences and break old patterns that might be in the way of enjoying a healthy and fulfilling relationship. In this blog, you’ll find out how couples counselling works, what you can expect from it and what you can do to prepare for it.
Does Couples Therapy Work?
As many as 70% of couples who try counselling see positive changes.  However, therapy isn’t a magic cure that will turn you and your partner into completely different people. Both sides will have to be willing to do the work and commit to it. At the same time, there’s a chance that couples therapy might make some couples realise that their differences are too great to stay together, which sounds like a terrible option now but will be better in the long run.
Why Do People Seek Couples Therapy?
Having disagreements in relationships can be normal and healthy. However, if the way things are in your relationship has a negative impact on your mental health or other areas of your life, it’s a sign that you need a different approach to deal with your issues.
The reasons couples seek therapy often include significant changes in their lives, such as one partner losing a job or infidelity, as well as other types of difficulties such as financial problems, family issues, mental health problems or substance abuse. It can also help with various differences such as different faith, sexual desire differences, cultural differences and different parenting styles.
Even if things are going well in your life, poor communication skills can cause many problems in your relationship. For example, if your partner works late, you might assume they don’t prioritise your needs or maybe even that they’re cheating on you. If you don’t share your concerns, you might end up feeling resentful and engage in passive-aggressive behaviours.
When Should You Seek Couples Therapy?
Don’t wait until it’s too late and your partner is filing for divorce or no longer cares about saving the relationship. Ideally, you should decide to seek professional help as soon as you notice problems that affect your relationship and other areas of life. As long as your partner is happy to do the work with you, you shouldn’t postpone it. At the same time, remember that an abusive relationship can’t be fixed with couples therapy and it’s best to distance yourself from an abusive partner.
What is Couples Counselling Like and What to Expect?
The most important thing to remember is that both parties have to be equally committed to benefit from couples therapy. The point of counselling is to give both partners the space to be heard, consider any negative habits you might have that strain the relationship and agree on how to break them.
In the first session, a counsellor will want to get a better idea of how your relationship works and might ask you about how you met and about any contextual factors that might contribute to your current problems. Then you can agree on mutual goals you want to achieve through therapy.
You might be encouraged to communicate with your partner during sessions; every side will have a chance to talk about their thoughts and feelings and the other side will have to listen. This will encourage you to respect the needs and concerns of your partner and learn to listen to what they have to say before reacting to it. You’ll also have a chance to speak without being interrupted and you might also be asked to talk about what you value in your partner to remind you why you got together in the first place and why it’s worth fighting for it.
You might receive homework to do at home that will typically involve practising communication skills, learning how to make your partner feel valid and how to care for each other.
One of the goals of couples therapy is to help you understand that when it comes to problems within relationships, it’s helpful to consider what contributes to your partner’s behaviour. For example, if they shut down instead of sharing how they feel, it doesn’t have to mean they don’t care but that their communication skills might be poor. Similarly, if they decide to go out with their female friend knowing you wouldn’t be happy about it, it might mean they feel there isn’t enough space for them in the relationship and that they’re lonely. You can’t change your partner but you can address the issues that prevent the relationship from working. Instead of focusing on correcting the other partner’s flaws, you’ll be encouraged to focus on improving your communication skills.
Can Couples Therapy Make Things Worse?
Initially, you might notice that there are more differences between you and your partner than before the counselling. This might be because you realise things are worse than you thought they were or because one of the partners finally starts opening up even though the other one had begged them to communicate for months. Additionally, finding out what might be behind your partner’s behaviour can cause more distress. For example, your partner might have been distant not because they don’t love you anymore but because they put themselves in debt and didn’t want you to find out about it. However, couples therapy is essentially a way to learn how to be together in new ways so don’t give up even if your relationship seems unsalvageable.
How to Prepare for Couples Therapy
You don’t have to wait until your first session to self-reflect. Here’s a quick checklist of things that will be helpful to consider:
1. Pay attention to how you communicate
Do you listen to what your partner has to say or do you jump to conclusions? Do you find it difficult to talk about how you feel? Do you feel like you aren’t heard? Are there any passive-aggressive behaviours you might be engaging in?
2. Notice how you resolve your issues and compromise
Do you tend to avoid conflicts? Do you let your emotions guide you? Do you suppress anger? Do you feel like you ever reach an agreement?
3. Consider your individual issues
If there are some individual issues that might be impacting your relationship such as a history of abuse or mental health issues, it might be necessary to seek individual counselling as well.
Contact My Family Psychologist to discuss how individual therapy and couples counselling work.