An overview of what it is and how it works:
Couples counseling starts with getting to know a couple and how they operate, including communication patterns, values, conflict resolution, disciplinary styles, financial management, recreation, spiritual commonalities and differences, and levels of physical and emotional intimacy. Can a therapist get to know all of this in one session? Probably not, but after two or three sessions, the therapist is usually able to gain a good working understanding of the couple’s problems. Some of these problems are plainly stated, but sometimes the issues are more subtle and outside of conscious awareness. Once problems are identified and specifically defined, the therapist then helps the couple set goals for change. At this problem solving stage, the therapist plays the role of facilitator and co-strategist. The real work takes place between sessions (usually weekly or every other week) as the couple implements the strategies agreed upon during the sessions. Each week, the therapist reviews the goals and strategies and asks the couple how successful they were at completing their “homework”. Depending on the couple’s progress, the goals are expanded or refined.
What's difficult about couples counseling?
No one can hurt a person more than their spouse or partner. Most of the hurt in a relationship is not intentional, but comes as a result of the spouse or partner living in close relationship with someone who sees so many of their faults and can so easily expose them. Because of what may be years of hurt, many people choose to stop communicating their deepest feelings to their spouse. Therapy is a context for revisiting and revealing that pain, which is both scary and potentially healing. The fear of these hurts resurfacing, or of a spouse’s reaction to the sharing of that pain, can lead to avoidance. Many people who have just started couples counseling have the same confession: “We should have done this many years ago.”
What's the potential gain from couples counseling?
Most people in difficult marriages or relationships long for a point in the past when things were better. They wonder if it is possible to return to a time when things seemed so much simpler and more satisfying. While it is good for a couple to recall better times, longing for the past is usually frustrating and unproductive and sometimes even leads to an attitude of blame. “I’m not the one who changed, my partner is.” The truth is that both people have changed, and whether they realize it or not, they have each contributed to change in the other. When considering the potential outcome of couples counseling, it is best to aim high, believing, “Our relationship is not what it used to be and will never be that again, but it can be something better than it is now and maybe even better than before.”