Couples counseling can help couples in all types of intimate relationships — regardless of sexual orientation or marriage status.
Some couples seek counseling to strengthen their partnership and gain a better understanding of each other. Couples counseling can also help couples who plan to get married. Premarital counseling can help couples achieve a deeper understanding of each other and iron out differences before marriage.
In other cases, couples seek counseling to improve a troubled relationship. You can use couples counseling to help with many specific issues, including:
- Communication problems
- Sexual difficulties
- Conflicts about child rearing or blended families
- Substance abuse
Couples counseling typically brings couples or partners together for joint therapy sessions. Working with a therapist, you'll learn skills to solidify your relationship, such as:
- Open communication
- How to discuss differences rationally
You'll talk about the good and bad parts of your relationship as you pinpoint and better understand the sources of your conflicts. Together you'll learn how to identify problems without blame and instead examine how things can be improved.
Here are some things to keep in mind when considering couples counseling:
- It might be hard to talk about your problems with the counselor. Time might pass in silence as you and your partner remain angry over perceived wrongs — or you might yell or argue during sessions. Both are OK. Your therapist can act as a referee and help you cope with the resulting emotions.
- You can go by yourself. If your partner refuses to attend couples counseling sessions, you can still attend. It's more challenging to mend a relationship this way, but you can benefit by learning more about your reactions and behavior.
- Therapy is tailored to meet your individual needs. Some people need only a few sessions of couples counseling, while others need it for longer. The specific treatment plan will depend on your situation. Sometimes, couples counseling helps couples discover that their differences truly are irreconcilable and that it's best to end the relationship. Sessions can then focus on skills for ending the relationship on good terms.
- You might have homework. Your counselor might suggest communication exercises at home to help you practice what you've learned during your session. For example, talk face-to-face with your partner for a few minutes every day about nonstressful things — without any interruptions from TVs, phones or children.
- You or your partner might need additional care. If one of you is coping with mental illness, substance abuse or other issues, your therapist might work with other health care providers to provide more complete treatment.
Making the decision to go to couples counseling can be tough. If you have a troubled relationship, however, seeking help is more effective than ignoring your problems or hoping they get better on their own. Sometimes taking the first step by admitting the relationship needs help is the hardest part. Most individuals find the experience to be insightful and empowering.