Couples Counseling Therapy
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 psychotherapy is led by a therapist with specific clinical experience working with couples, such as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, who works to resolve the given conflict and improve relationship satisfaction. And while a couples counselor’s approach to therapy may vary, couples counseling typically revolves around the following three main elements:
- A focus on specific issues, such as jealousy or codependency.
- 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.
Does Couples Counseling Really Work?
Every year, thousands of couples begin seeing a counselor with hopes that the therapy process will help to improve and strengthen their relationships. 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
Emotional Blackmail: Cause for Couples Counseling
Relationships may demand or benefit from couples counseling for a multitude of reasons—there may be an unavoidable argument that keeps coming up; one partner may have growing concerns about developing codependency; or, the couple might simply want to improve their relationship even further. All of these reasons rightfully warrant couples counseling—but a very serious psychological phenomena called emotional blackmail is of great concern and demands couples counseling right away… that is, if the relationship isn’t already too far gone.
When does it become emotional blackmail? 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 fear 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 6 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.
While you wait for help and work on counseling with a therapist, take these three vital steps:
- Establish clear boundaries and don’t allow the poor attitude of your partner to change your mind—giving into emotional blackmail only makes things worse.
- If your partner threatens physical harm or alludes to hurting you, leave immediately and call the authorities. Don’t stay in a potentially dangerous situation simply because you’re afraid to lose personal belongings. They can all be replaced; you can’t.
- Reach out to your social support system for help while you are getting professional help. Your therapist or counselor provides valuable help and insight, but they can’t be there for you 24/7.
Many people have a certain level of insecurity; don’t assume that anyone who is insecure is going to turn into an emotional blackmailing monster. Sometimes it’s just a matter of simple reassurance and making your partner feel special. When the reassurances cease to be enough and you feel more and more manipulated by the emotions of your partner, those are the red flags that should alert you that something is wrong.
10 Ways to Encourage Your Partner to Attend Couples Counseling
There is no ‘trick’ to get your partner to join you in couples counseling. While the following tips may help you to encourage your partner, they are not ways to manipulate your partner. 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 as an important part of the process!
Are you ready? Here are a few guidelines to follow in encouraging your spouse to join you in couples counseling:
1) Do so promptly.
There is no better time than now to start counseling—therefore you should talk to your partner promptly about doing so. It may be scary to talk to them about (or even consider couples therapy yourself), but it will benefit your relationship, as well as the both of you individually. So, utilize the next few tips now to make the process of talking to your partner about couples therapy easier.
2) Ask for a favor, or make a trade!
Your partner may not want to attend counseling because he or she doesn’t “like the idea of it,” or doesn’t think it will help. If this is the case, instead of trying to convince your partner that counseling can help, simply ask your partner if they will accompany you to counseling as a favor to you. Depending on how things have been going between you two, there is a chance that your partner might not feel like doing you any favors. If this is the case, consider whether there is a favor or concession that you could give to your partner, in exchange for his or her attendance at a couples counseling appointment.
Note: This is not blackmail, nor is it extortion! The idea is to go above and beyond what is fair, as a way to encourage your spouse or partner to accompany you to couples counseling. Is there something your partner has wanted from you, that you have been unwilling to provide?
3) Focus on your own changes.
Sometimes when one partner recommends couples counseling, the receiving partner can feel they are being told that something is wrong with them. If this is the case, resistance to counseling is to be expected. To increase the odds that your partner will accompany you to couples counseling, tell your partner that you want to make your own changes in the relationship and you want your partner’s support in the self-improvement process. It is important, however, that you don’t lie—if your partner asks if you think that they need to change, be honest! But tell your partner that you are 100% interested in how you can to change to be a better partner as well.
4) 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.
5) 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.
6) 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.
7) Suggest a phone consultation.
If your partner is nervous about counseling, offer that he or she talk with the counselor by telephone to help him or her feel comfortable. A telephone consultation is a great way to ease into the idea of going to couples counseling.
8) 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.
9) 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.
10) Maintain and instill hope.
Hope is everything. Talk to your partner about how you think couples counseling can help. Mention that even though things have been difficult, and even though there is work and repair to be done, you still have hope for the relationship and for a happy future together. This positivity is a huge first step.
We hope that you have found this information helpful. If your relationship is in distress, discord, or simply could use a little help around particular issues, there are many ways to find an excellent couples counselor in your area, including contacting local counseling associations, asking for a referral from your primary care doctor, or reaching out to us! Thriveworks offers a growing network of licensed couples counselors who have gone through a rigorous screening process, have been nominated by other licensed professionals, and who are focused on providing high-quality counseling care to individuals and couples. Click here to see a counselor or coach this week, if not within 24 hours—because you can thrive, and we can help.