(Title) What is Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy?
“Isn’t couples therapy and relationship counseling only for those relationships that are broken?” Some variation of this question is what I hear often from the audience of relational speaking events I give and new clients sitting in my office who are courageous enough to ask it. Although this is an understandable assumption given the way our society and media generally portray couples therapy and marriage counseling, it is an assumption that actually prevents many people from experiencing the types of relationships they want. It is a stereotype that can prevent individuals and couples from getting the support they need.
Putting Things Into Perspective (Bold Subtitle)
When I’m asked variations of this question by those unfamiliar with couples therapy and relationship counseling, I often respond with a few questions of my own! “When did you learn healthy and effective relational skills? Was there a required class in elementary school, high school or college that specifically taught you how to relate with others? Where did you learn the skills needed to be happily married to one person for the rest of your life?” These questions quickly put things into perspective for most people. The reality is, unless we grew up in a stable and loving family environment that modeled healthy relational interactions, have formal education in a field such as marriage counseling, or have been through the process of couples therapy or relationship counseling ourselves, we usually don’t posses these skills.
Believe it or not, somewhere between 70 and 80% of the general public does not know how to engage the basic skills for cultivating and sustaining healthy relationships (CITE). This is a statistic that many people are unfortunately not aware of. It can also be a sobering reality that many people don’t realize until they have found themselves without friends, become distant from their family, been fired from several, or have gone through multiple divorces. The good news is relational skills can be easily learned with some effort and practice. The relational skills learned in couples therapy are also not limited to just intimate relationships, they are skills that apply to all relationships such as those with family, friends, peers, co-workers and clients.
Relationships Don’t Have to be That Hard (Bold Subtitle)
It is true that a majority of those who seek couples therapy and relationship counseling wait until they have been experiencing distress in their relationship or marriage for many years, sometimes five, ten and even twenty years of distress and disconnection before getting outside professional support. Those who wait years to get this help typically enter my office highly conflicted, emotionally reactive, sexually distant, questioning their relationship and sense of self, or on the brink of divorce. It is common for me to hear clients say,
- “I guess we thought our problems would naturally correct themselves, or just go away over time.”
- “We thought this is what marriage was, you just learned to live with it, silently compromise and accept.”
- “Asking for help meant I was weak, or even worse was failing as an individual or at my relationship.”
- “It didn’t even cross our minds that a set of relational skills existed and they were something we could learn.”
I’m always amazed at the strength and sheer willpower of clients that endure years of distress and disconnection before seeking professional support; it’s also disheartening. It’s disheartening because these clients are often the 70-80% of people who didn’t experience healthy relationships growing up (CITE), were never taught relational skills, don’t know that relational skills are something that can be easily learned and most importantly are suffering. Many individuals also don’t realize that the process of learning how to live more relationally is not limited to just couples. Individual-relationship counseling, marriage counseling and relationship coaching are common in my practice and also very effective for many individual clients.
So where do we learn these relational skills as adults if we were not fortunate enough to have been raised or educated in an environment that places us in the 20-30% of those considered to be relationally proficient? Where do we learn the skills to put and end to years of needless frustration, tension and suffering within our personal and professional relationships or marriage?
The General Process of Marriage Counseling & Couples Therapy (Bold Subtitle)
Couples therapy and relationship counseling is a complex process, but in a general sense it can be thought of as a process of progression that lies on a continuum. At one end of the continuum you can learn how to stop fighting and reduce pain and conflict in your relationship. At the other end of the continuum you can learn how to strengthen intimacy and passion within your relationship. In between these two points on the continuum lie skills and practices such as improving communication, increasing understanding, rebuilding trust and even working through experiences such as relational trauma.
[Include visual bar-continuum with arrows at the end of the bar because the continuum is actually a circle: Reduce Conflict, Improve Communication, Increase Understanding, Rebuild Trust, and Strengthen Intimacy
At its core, marriage counseling and couples therapy is a process that enables you and your partner to learn, as well as experientially engage, specific skills and practices for strengthening communication and connection in your relationship. Whether you want to learn how resolve problems, improve communication, strengthen connection, or achieve specific goals in your relationship or marriage, relationship counseling and couples therapy can move you in the positive direction you want.
The Role of Your Marriage Counselor & Couples Therapist
A specialist in couples therapy and relationship counseling utilizes their education, training and clinical experience to ensure the process occurs in a safe, supportive and collaborative space, without the presence of blame or judgment upon either partner. You should know that Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling is not about pointing fingers, determining which partner is at fault, or a process in which a therapist makes decisions for you by telling you what to do. A therapist is best described as a guide, a guide who supports you through the process of working through your struggles and achieving the individual and relational goals you bring to therapy. This can be counterintuitive for some clients.
Some clients think a couples therapist job is to determine who is wrong in the relationship and to make all the decisions for the couple. Further along in our relationship article series we explain in greater detail how approaching the process of couples therapy and marriage counseling in this way can actually makes things worse for a couple. As a couples therapist and marriage counselor my focus is to support and empower my clients so they can learn the skills and practices to help themselves.
Don’t Wait Until it is too Late
The stigma of couples therapy and marriage counseling only being for individuals or relationships that are broken can prevent you from experiencing healthy and happy relationships. Our often unconscious and unspoken societal norms such as, healthy relationships shouldn’t require effort, problems shouldn’t exist if it is true love and you don’t need someone else to be happy, also perpetuate the problem. Relationships do require attention and practice, a practice of specific skills and ways of being that can be easily learned.
Don’t be the statistic of 70-80% of the population that doesn’t understand how to engage the basic skills for cultivating and sustaining healthy relationships (CITE). Don’t be the statistic of 40-45% of first marriages that end in divorce (CITE). And definitely don’t be the parent or parents who knowingly or unknowingly model and pass down dysfunctional relational dynamics the cause unnecessary harm and suffering in their children’s lives. Don’t wait until things have gone from bad to worse before seeking the support of a professional, your health and happiness is too important!
Did You Miss Our Previous Article in the Series?
If you missed our previous article in the relationship series and you want to know the truth about whether couples therapy really works, visit (Does Marriage Counseling and Couple Therapy Really work)
Are You Ready for Our Next Article in the Series?
Want to learn from an expert in relationship and marriage counseling? Find out what you should know and what you should consider when searching for the best marriage counselor and couples therapist for you and your partner. Visit (The Best Marriage Counselor & Couples Therapist)