Relationship counseling, also known as Couples therapy and marriage counseling, helps couples work through their specific relationship issues. It is led by licensed professionals — often licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) — who are experts in their field and best-equipped to help couples. Some examples of common focuses within relationship counseling include:
- Trust issues
- Opposing values
- Different visions for the future
- Disagreements in parenting
- Lack of trust
- Financial distress
- Sex issues
Relationship counseling works by helping couples identify and better navigate their unique challenges. Following an initial assessment of the couple in terms of strengths and needs, the therapist would then discuss their therapeutic goals and any possible approaches or ways of working together as therapist and couple.
Couples attend sessions together, whether they meet in person or by video. In addition to regular couples therapy sessions, each partner may also be asked to attend a few individual sessions to supplement their progress. This will allow their counselor to get to know each individual better, assess each of their personal needs, and develop the very best treatment plan moving forward.
On average, couples attend relationship counseling for 12 weeks. However, relationship counseling may last longer or shorter, dependent on the couples' needs, the challenges they'd like to work through, and the pace of their progress.
Couples need effective and healthy communication to cultivate a successful relationship. Without good communication, issues are allowed to grow and fester and ultimately create a rift that can be detrimental to the relationship. Communication is important but it comes easier for some couples than others and even in the soundest relationships, misunderstandings can still occur. Let’s address some ways you and your partner can improve open and honest communication in your relationship.
Avoid involving third parties such as your friends and family. It is normal to seek advice from family and friends, but sharing personal information without the consent of your partner can create unnecessary issues in your relationship. It is fine to want to share but be cautious about the information you choose to share. Involving family and friends can invite unsolicited advice and stress. Practice keeping your problems private and only inviting the outside help of a professional who can be objective when needed.
Avoid using “I” statements. Selfishness is the quickest way ruin good communication in a relationship. Do your best to be objective in your use of words. Practice making your statements in a fair way and avoid using language that sets your partner up for failure. You also want to avoid using language that puts your partner on the defensive. The goal is to lose the I and win as a team.
Avoid interrupting and listen to understand. In a relationship, both partners should have a safe place to express themselves without the fear of feeling like they will not be heard or understood. Only speak when it is your time to talk. While you may feel like what you have to say is important, learning to wait until it is your time to talk can convey to your partner that you are not only listening but you value what they are saying. Interrupting someone while they are speaking is rude, but we can quickly forget this in the heat of the moment. Failure to listen and understand can create resentment over time.
Avoid expecting your partner to be psychic. While we would like to think our partners know us well enough to predict our thoughts or feelings, they do not. This is an unfair expectation to place on your partner. By utilizing effective communication, you can eliminate this preconceived notion and allow your partner to learn by listening to you express how you feel. No one is a mind reader.
Avoid bringing up the past and watch your tone of voice. No one likes their past mistakes thrown in their face. If this is a habit, then drop it as soon as possible. This is unfair to your partner and can inhibit open and honest communication. Developing a safe communication environment means avoiding bringing up each other’s failures. This is an extremely detrimental habit to practice while in a disagreement. Practice seeing the best in your partner at all times despite the times where they may have failed. Watch your tone, as aggressive tones can put your partner on the defensive unnecessarily. You can communicate your stance on difficult topics in a calm but firm voice. Developing healthy communication takes time, but it is worth it.