Relationships can be tough. It doesn’t matter how much you love your partner, sometimes couples face conflicts and are unable to solve their problems on their own. However, relationship-related problems need to be fixed as soon as possible in order to avoid further complications.
Guidance from licensed professional counselors is the best possible way to overcome problems in relationships. Various types of couples therapy were found to have both short- and long-term effects in studies (Schofield et al., 2012). The main purpose of couples counseling is to improve romantic relationships, help the couples solve interpersonal struggles, and build healthy relationships.
If you are concerned about your current relationship and want professional help, we’ve prepared a complete guide about the basics of couples counseling, its types, techniques, and the ways it works.
What is Couples Counseling?
According to the American Psychological Association, Couples therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which both partners in a romantic relationship are treated by a licensed therapist. Couple therapist helps people who are involved in a romantic relationship to explore their problems, overcome relationship-related issues and become more satisfied by each other and their emotional or physical connection. Couples therapists are interested in both individual problems of the members and their mutual concerns. Based on the problem, a counselor provides either mutual or individual sessions to both partners together.
Couples Counseling can be applied at any stage of the relationship. Usually, it’s used to deal with a wide range of relationship problems such as sex-related issues, emotional disconnection, conflicts, affairs, or other types of difficulties. The therapy is used with people of different ages, races, marital statuses, or sexual orientations.
Even though a lot of types of couples therapies are used, studies demonstrate that most of them are proven ways to deal with various types of problems (Hewison, Casey & Mwamba, 2016; Baucom & Crenshaw, 2019).
How Does Couples Counseling Work?
Typically, couples therapy starts just like other types of psychotherapy. The counselor conducts a standard interview and asks questions about the history of the relationship. In order to effectively assess the problem, the therapist needs to find out the details not only about the relationship but about the backgrounds, values, and personality characteristics of each partner. Therefore, you should expect some questions about your life outside the relationship as well.
Once the main issue is identified, the therapist starts developing treatment goals and plans the sessions with the clients. At times, it is necessary to get the partners to prepare for therapy sessions and work on crisis intervention.
On average, couples counseling consists of 12 sessions, but depending on the problem it can be more or less. Usually, the progress is evident after 4-5 sessions. Partners quickly notice an improvement in their communication style and interactions. However, you can only achieve the long-term effect if you attend all the planned sessions.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), couples counseling is more effective than individual therapies for marital conflicts. In fact, 90% of the clients who attended couples counseling reported an improvement. Besides, couples counseling is proven to be effective with couples faced with the following problems:
- Communication problems
- Emotional disconnection
- Sexual problems
- Conflicts about raising children
- Domestic abuse
- Substance abuse
Types of Couples Counseling
Marriage counseling was first used in the 1920s in Germany. Since then, more than a century has passed, and there is now a diverse range of approaches that couples counseling uses during therapy. Currently, several types of couples therapy are in use. Choosing the most suitable one depends on the specific goals of the relationship.
Here are some of the most common types of couples counseling:
- The Gottman method – the main purpose of this method is to improve the quality of relationships between partners by focusing on their intimacy, verbal communication, empathy between partners, and barriers to conflict resolution.
- Emotionally Focused Therapy – The therapist helps the partners to realize the reasons that cause their feelings of emotional disconnection. The main goal is to solve the attachment and communication problems between partners.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT is a common therapy that aims to change cognitive distortions and maladaptive thought patterns. Although this therapy is mostly used individually, in recent years, CBT has also been used in couples counseling to improve communication patterns.
- Psychodynamic Therapy – couples form of psychodynamic psychotherapy is used for exploring maladaptive coping strategies of relationship-related problems. The main reason for this therapy is to aid patients to become more self-aware and explore underlying reasons for their behavior.
- Integrative Couples Therapy – it’s a strength-based approach developed by Ellen F. Wachtel which aims to focus on the positive side of the relationship and use the couple’s strengths to overcome difficulties.
Now let’s review some of these therapies more in-depth.
Gottman Method is one of the most frequently used types of couples therapy. It was created by psychologists John Gottman and Julie Gottman who are husband and wife. They spent about 40 years studying the behavior styles in adaptive and maladaptive relationships and finally, developed Gottman Method Couples Therapy.
The goal of this therapy is to increase intimacy, affection, and loyalty between couples. They try to improve verbal communication styles and avoid a feeling of stagnancy in relationships. After the therapy, couples usually feel a sense of empathy towards each other and can look at things from one another’s perspective.
The authors developed the theory of The Sound Relationship House Theory, which is based on nine components:
- Build Love Maps
- Share Fondness and Admiration
- Turn Towards
- The Positive Perspective
- Manage Conflict
- Make Life Dreams Come True
- Create Shared Meaning
The main objectives of this therapy are the following:
- Identifying the triggers of conflicts
- Understanding the reasons for the disagreement
- Sharing each other’s perspectives
- Discovering shared values
- Developing mechanisms to manage conflict
According to the latest studies, the Gottman method is an effective way to improve marital relationships, adjustment, and intimacy (Davoodvandi, Nejad & Farzad, 2018).
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)
Developed in the 1980s, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is one of the most well-researched and frequently used types of therapy in couples counseling. It’s a short-term form of therapy that is used to improve attachment styles and emotional connections in relationships. The therapy is created by doctors Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg who based their model on the adult attachment theory.
EFT is widely used to overcome relationship problems with couples or families. The main purpose of the sessions is to help couples or families to improve emotional bonds and maintain healthy relationships.
Emotionally Focused Therapy consists of three major stages:
- De-escalation – identifying maladaptive communication patterns that lead to conflicts and easing the situation by helping the couple to realize the problem.
- Restructuring – therapist helps each partner to change their maladaptive thoughts or emotions about each other and the relationship. Couples learn to accept each others’ needs and express their emotions.
- Consolidation – couples use new strategies and skills during interaction with each other. They acknowledge now this new communication style prevents conflict.
Studies show that EFT has stable and long-lasting positive effects on relationships and helps couples to improve emotional bonds, reorganize their emotional responses and improve interpersonal understanding (Beasley & Ager, 2019).
Psychodynamic Couples Counseling
Psychodynamic therapy is based on Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. However, it’s neither as long nor as intensive as traditional psychoanalysis. Unlike traditional psychoanalysis where the main focus of the therapy is the relationship between a counselor and the client, in Psychodynamic Couples Counseling the therapist works on the relationship between the partners.
This approach helps deal with various emotional and mental health problems, including attachment issues, emotional distress, interpersonal problems, substance use, and more. After the sessions, partners develop a better understanding of each others’ perspectives and accept one another’s opinions which leads to an improved relationship.
Psychodynamic Couples Counseling is talk therapy, meaning that discussing relationship-related problems out loud with each other helps the couple to understand their problems and work together to reach solutions. The overall result of this therapy is improved psychological well-being and greater satisfaction with the relationship.
If you see that you and your partner experience problems in a relationship like trouble expressing feelings, emotional disconnection, or various types of conflicts, asking professional couples counselors for help could be a good idea. Couples therapy will help you identify relationship issues, understand each other better, resolve conflicts and improve relationship satisfaction.
As American author, Mark W. Boyer once said, “Lack of communication can drive a spike between two people wider than any physical distance.” So, don’t hesitate to reach out to Couples Counseling Therapists in Grand Rapids at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids if you experience serious relationship-related problems.