Tom and Jen are struggling to connect. They’ve been together for three years and seen their love grow exponentially for each other every day, but they’ve hit a snag. They both are extra busy at work and haven’t spent a lot of intimate time together. Tom and Jen both also feel a lot of pressure from their families—to get married and have kids as soon as possible. The stress is getting to their relationship, but they don’t know what to do about it.
After a recommendation from a close friend, Tom and Jen decide to talk to a couples counselor to understand and address the issues in their relationship. Quickly, their counselor helps them realize that they aren’t properly managing their stress. Additionally, they haven’t prioritized meaningful time together, which has also caused a strain in their relationship. Fortunately, they work together to come up with a plan for better managing stress and making time for each other. Once they begin implementing this plan, they start to feel better and more connected than ever before.
What Is Couples Counseling?
Couples therapy is designed to help couples fix or improve their relationship—whether they be married, engaged, or simply dating, and whether they have more serious issues that need to be confronted or simple areas of the relationship they hope to work on. This form of therapy is led by a therapist with specific experience working with couples, such as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) who works to resolve the given conflict and improve relationship satisfaction.
How Does It Work?
Every year, thousands of couples begin seeing a counselor with hopes that the therapy process will help to improve and strengthen their relationships. While a couples counselor’s approach to therapy may vary, couples counseling typically revolves around the following three elements:
- A focus on specific issues, such as jealousy, codependency, or financial distress.
- Change-oriented interventions, which will guide the two partners to better relationship satisfaction.
- A clear outline of treatment objectives, as to track progress and paint a clear picture of where the couple is headed.
But is there any evidence that couples counseling works? Actually, there is: according to a national survey of marriage and family counselors and their clients, a couple’s motivation for improvement may be the single most important factor in determining counseling success. In a research study published by the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, it was found that client satisfaction and relationship improvement is often high with individuals in couples counseling. More specifically, of clients from 526 couples counselors in 15 different states…
- 98.1% rated services as good or excellent
- 97.1% received the type of help they desired
- 91.2% were satisfied with the amount of help they received
- 93% said they were helped to deal more effectively with problems
- 94.3% would return to the same therapist in the future
- 96.9% would recommend their therapist to a friend
- 97.4% were satisfied with the service they received
- 63.4% reported improved physical health
- 54.8% reported improvement in functioning at work
- 73.7% reported improvement in their children’s behavior
- 58.7% reported improvement in their children’s school performance
Who Should Seek Couples Counseling?
If you and your partner think you could benefit from working with a professional, this service can prove valuable. Your counselor will tailor your sessions to fit your needs and goals for counseling. For example, couples counseling can help you to address and/or move forward from issues like:
- Opposing values
- Different visions for the future
- Disagreements in parenting
- Lack of trust
- Financial distress
All of these issues rightfully warrant couples counseling. But let’s talk about emotional blackmail, a very serious psychological phenomena that demands couples counseling right away… that is, if the relationship isn’t already too far gone. It’s not entirely uncommon to acquiesce to your partner’s requests. After all, you can compromise as well as the next person. But when does healthy compromise turn into something else—something more sinister and harmful? If you often find yourself giving into demands of your partner and feel afraid if you don’t give in, you might be in a relationship in which your partner goes overboard using emotional blackmail to control you. Here are additional warning signs of emotional blackmail:
- Your partner manipulates your decisions and choices by reacting negatively to your initial decisions and choices.
- They intimidate you until you do what they want.
- He or she blames you for something that you didn’t do so that you feel inclined to work overtime to win back their affection.
- You suffer dramatically and publicly until you agree to do what makes them happy.
- They threaten to harm either you or themselves to get you to do (or not do) something.
People who use guilt and emotional blackmail to manipulate and control often work in cycles. There is a period of time in which things seem to be going well and often the victim might let their guard down because the manipulation and intimidation went away. Perhaps the victim will then feel “I must be doing things correctly now.” People who resort to emotional blackmail are also often extremely insecure: when the person who uses emotional blackmail starts to feel out of control or uneasy about a situation, they may begin to increase the pressure of manipulation to their partner. If you are a victim of emotional blackmail and you believe your partner is using guilt to control or manipulate you, you need to seek help right away.
All of that being said, remember that there are many other instances when seeking professional help in your relationship is necessary and beneficial. Even if you don’t think it is a serious issue, a couples counselor can help you to put the issue to bed and improve the quality of your relationship.
5 Ways to Encourage Your Partner to Attend Couples Counseling
There is no “trick” for getting your partner to join you in couples counseling. While the following tips may help you to encourage your partner, they are not forms of manipulation. In fact, you will find that many of the strategies below can only be effective if you are not trying to manipulate your partner, and only if you, yourself, are dedicated to improving the relationship, and willing to improve yourself along the way. So, if your partner feels hesitant about seeking couples counseling, here are a few guidelines to follow in encouraging your spouse to join you in couples counseling:
- Show signs of change, yourself. Oftentimes, when someone avoids couples counseling it’s because they don’t think it will be effective in facilitating real change in their partner or relationship. Counter this worry by helping your partner to see that you’re not only willing to change, but also that you have already begun improving yourself. Going to counseling on your own is a good way to show that you are serious about committing to a self-improvement process. Alternatively, reading about couples counseling (as you’re doing now) and sharing with your partner what you have learned is a great way to show your partner you are serious about growth.
- Stress that you’re in this together. Remind your partner that, while your relationship has difficulties, you want to work with him or her to improve the relationship together. Show solidarity and an openness to do whatever is necessary for a healthy, happy partnership.
- Explain to your partner that the counselor is a neutral party. If you have spoken with a couples counselor by telephone, or perhaps even met with a counselor, make sure that you stress their neutrality to your partner—explain that the counselor is by no means “on your side,” but will work with the both of you impartially. If your partner is worried about the counselor being biased by his or her preliminary contact with you, offer to balance things out by having your partner meet with the counselor alone to “tell your side of the story.” Alternatively, offer to see a new couples counselor that neither of you have had contact with.
- Prompt them to consider the rewards of couples counseling. If you suggest couples counseling, your partner may have some resistance because it was “your idea.” Help to make couples counseling a shared idea by asking your partner, “Hypothetically, if we were to go to couples counseling, what would you most want to get out of our sessions?” This question may also help your partner to begin thinking about his or her potential gains from couples counseling.
- Talk about “even if.” Your partner may say that he or she doesn’t want to go to counseling because there is no hope for the relationship. You can respond to this argument by using “even if.” The idea here is that “even if” the relationship has “no hope,” counseling can still help the two of you to part on good terms and may help each of you to learn from the experience so that you don’t make similar mistakes in future relationships. If your relationship is a marriage, divorce can cost tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars if the separation isn’t amicable. Counseling can—at a minimum—help you and your partner create a plan for a civil separation with less litigation.
Quick Facts About Couples Counseling
- Couples counseling can help couples grow and improve the quality of their relationship.
- Couples counseling is more effective when problems are addressed early on.
- It is also more effective when couples feel hopeful about the process and the future of their relationship.
- Many couples are reluctant to try couples counseling, due to stigma, shame, or reluctance to take responsibility for their challenges.
- Often there is one partner who is hesitant to try couples counseling and needs some encouragement.
- Sometimes, couples counseling helps people realize that they don’t want to pursue a future with each other.
- In any case, couples counseling assists individuals in addressing and managing the problem areas in their relationship.
Start Couples Counseling Today at Thriveworks
If your relationship is in discord, or you could simply use a little help addressing common relationship issues, schedule a session at Thriveworks. Thriveworks offers a growing network of licensed couples counselors who have gone through a rigorous screening process and who are focused on providing high-quality mental health services.
Click here to see a counselor or coach—we have weekend and evening appointments in addition to normal weekday and daytime sessions. Or, if you’re interested in online counseling versus in-person counseling, check out those opportunities here. In either case, a counselor can help you improve your relationship.
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