Maybe your relationship is hanging by a thread; or maybe your relationship “couldn’t be better.” In either and any regard, you could benefit from couples counseling. Couples counseling is designed to help couples weather any current, future, or potential storm—which means even if you fall into the “it couldn’t be better” category, couples counseling can help you! Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist, is here to discuss just a few of the lessons you learn and how they will improve your relationship.
Lesson #1: How to improve your communication.
“The most common thing that motivates couples to seek counseling/therapy after marriage is pain,” says Dr. Fran. “Something is not going right and there is usually a communication breakdown. Most people lack healthy give and take, listening and talking skills regarding good communication. Whether the issue is money, sex, children, work/career, in-laws, or other environmental stressors, the bottom line is that people don’t know how to talk with each other about difficult things. They come to my office and learn healthy communication skills and the secondary gain is deeper intimacy in the relationship.”
Here are a few of those effective communication techniques you’d explore further in a session with Dr. Fran or another counselor:
1) Identify thoughts, feelings, and needs. Instead of approaching a conversation confused or uncertain, you should think about your thoughts, feelings, and needs beforehand so you can clearly communicate them to your partner.
2) Use “I” statements. Own how you feel by using “I” statements, rather than focusing on what your partner is or isn’t doing. This will make for a more productive conversation.
3) Ask for feedback. Invite your partner to express how they feel about what you’ve said—make it a two-way discussion.
4) Listen, don’t defend. Now it’s your turn to listen. Refrain from taking offense and really listen to what your partner has to say.
5) Reflect. Before you bring the conversation to a close, discuss your takeaways. What did each of you get out of this conversation? Is the problem resolved?
Lesson #2: How to work effectively through conflicts.
“The next things you should learn by talking to a stranger are vulnerable issues in your partner if you are part of a couple,” Dr. Fran explains. “As you learn about yourself, so will your partner. The benefit of discussing couples issues is that you are privy to listening to your partner’s struggles and conflicts, too. You have the privileged opportunity to heighten your sensitivity to him and go gentle when treading delicate territory.”
It can be difficult to open yourself to vulnerability, but as Dr. Fran has said, it certainly pays off. Instead of focusing on all of the things that could go wrong, focus on all that could go right: you’ll build a stronger relationship, you’ll grow closer to one another, and you’ll have the opportunity to show your partner just how much you support and care for them.
Lesson #3: How to strengthen your bond by keeping yourself accountable.
The final lesson taught in couples counseling that Dr. Fran is going to discuss is keeping yourself accountable. She says that “hearing your own voice verbalize problems and issues” in therapy, forces you to acknowledge your own shortcomings—whereas hearing someone else bring up your shortcomings is likely to upset you. If you find yourself getting increasingly upset or defensive when your partner brings up his or her concerns, try implementing one of the following relaxation techniques:
- Practice slow, focused breathing.
- Go for a walk.
- Write down your feelings.
- Visualize a relaxing experience engrained in your memory.
- Completely remove yourself from the conversation if necessary.
Learning to take responsibility in your relationship is a vital key to keeping that bond strong, but remember: nobody and no relationship is perfect. “We will, without question, inadvertently miscommunicate and hurt our partner’s feelings,” says Dr. Fran. “We must be able to tease apart what is our own unfinished business and what issues belong to our partner. Most people are too quick to look outward and point a finger at the other. This is playing with fire! Always best to first take that painful look within and be accountable for your own mistakes before judging and blaming the other person. That is the powerful value of talking to a stranger. It also helps you become more flexible and open-minded, which are two qualities required for good mental health.”