When we aren’t getting what we need from our relationships, we can lose track of not only the relationship we thought we had but who and where we are as individuals. When things are not going well with the person you are closest to and most intimate with, there may well be a loss of confidence that can spill over into other areas of your life. Perhaps you are bored in your relationship or fed up of constantly bickering with your partner. Maybe there is a crisis point that has to be addressed: an affair or betrayal of trust; differing sex drives or needs; money problems; issues with children, parenting, or blending families. It may simply be that there is something missing in the relationship that you can’t quite put your finger on but that you want to try to resolve.
Saying “relationships are hard” is so common it’s a cliché now. But it’s also true. Even when people get along really well, stress and daily life can cause conflicts that seem difficult or even impossible to resolve. Relationship counseling can help people in these tough situations to work through their problems, move beyond them, and be better partners overall.
When to Seek Relationship Counseling?
Many people believe that you should only seek relationship counseling when separation or divorce is looming. But that is often too little, too late. Relationship therapy should begin as soon as the problems get in the way of your daily life.
Here are some signs that you might benefit from a consultation:
You have trouble expressing your feelings to one another
You have one or more unsolvable disagreement
There is withdrawal, criticism, or contempt in your interactions
A stressful event has shaken your daily life
You have trouble making decisions together
You experienced infidelity, addiction, or potential abuse
You want a stronger relationship
Remember that there are no wrong reasons to seek relationship counseling. Some couples start therapy as soon as they are married, even without obvious problems, to prevent serious problems from developing. Counselors can help you become a better communicator, develop strong relationship skills, and improve your family’s happiness.
The average couple waits six years before seeking therapy. This is a lot of time to let problems fester; at this point, troubled relationships are difficult to save. It is therefore important to acknowledge problems early and seek therapy as soon as possible.
Problems with relationships are not limited to romantic ones, even though that’s the most popular reason people consult for relationship therapy. Relationship therapy isn’t just for married people: cohabiting couples, people in non-monogamous relationships, and LGBTQ people can also benefit. It can also be helpful for siblings dealing with family issues, or even business partners!
Seeking Relationship Counseling
Beginning any form of counseling can be pretty intimidating and going in as a couple is potentially even more so. Relationship counseling may not necessarily take your relationship to where you might expect, in some cases, it can lead to exploring the possibility of dissolving the relationship. This should be noted for every couple seeking therapy. Counseling can feel fairly exposing and this may be difficult at first if you are not used to this type of communication. Relationship counseling can in many ways be more rewarding than individual counseling. The fact that you have both agreed to come along shows that you care about each other enough to come and put yourself in an intimate and potentially exposing situation, which may well lead to feelings of vulnerability. There may be feelings of rivalry over whose ‘side’ the therapist will take and it may help to bear in mind that the therapist’s client, in this case, is not one individual or the other, but the relationship itself. Getting over the ‘hump’ of actually walking into the therapy room can be the hardest part. There is a feeling of optimism and hope in coming to counselling and in exploring your shared experiences.
Premarital counseling is a type of relationship therapy that helps prepare couples to enter into a long-term commitment. This type of counseling focuses on helping couples develop a strong and healthy relationship before marriage and identify any potential problems that might lead to issues down the road.
Some of the relationship issues that might be addressed during premarital counseling include:
Values and beliefs
Roles and responsibilities
Sex and affection
Whether or not to have children
This type of relationship counseling can be a good way to establish realistic expectations and develop healthy communication skills that will set a marriage off to a good start.
How relationship counseling can help
Counseling provides you with a caring, confidential, safe, and supportive space to talk. It can really help to speak with someone who is completely separate from your relationship. There will be some hard work involved, but we will work together, collaboratively.
Relationship counseling will give you the tools to be able to deal with conflict, to communicate more effectively, and to have a more positive relationship, not only with the person you walked into the counseling session with but in all your relationships.
What to Expect from Relationship Counseling
The first few sessions will focus on your history and the problems you are there to solve. Be prepared to answer questions about your relationship, your parents, your childhood, and relationship experiences before your current one. Your therapist will possibly want to spend some time talking to everyone together and to each member separately.
How to Make Relationship Therapy Effective
Effective therapy depends not only on the skills and experience of the counselor but also on the willingness of the clients. There are many things you can do to make your relationship counseling more effective.
Do not lie to your therapist. Sometimes we lie because we don't want to be judged. However, your therapist's job is not to judge you but to help you. Stay honest, even when it's hard.
Prepare Yourself for Discomfort
Therapy can often cause discomfort because you are discovering new truths about yourself, not all of them nice or happy. Working on yourself requires that you sit with your discomfort and acknowledge that you need to grow and improve. Your therapist is there to help but ultimately is it up to you to do the work.
Listen to Your partner(s)
Whether you are doing relationship therapy with one person or a larger family group, it's important to listen to what others have to say. Remaining on the defensive and trying to reply to everything that others bring up about your behavior is only going to make things more difficult for everyone.
Put in the Time
Therapy happens just as much in sessions as between them. Your counselor might give you homework or ask you to try new patterns of communication and interaction in between appointments. It's going to take time and effort, but remember that it is worth it. In the end, it's the work that all members of the relationship put in that make a difference in the results of the therapy.
Do not expect the therapist to be a wizard who's going to make all your problems disappear. Consult early, engage honestly in the process, and do the work.
If Your Partner Refuses Therapy
Even if you believe that your relationship can benefit from therapy, your partner might not be willing to participate. So what can you do in this situation? It is important to remember that you cannot force your partner into counseling. All you can ultimately do is see a therapist on your own and work on issues you are facing as an individual.
your therapy is going to go depends on the style of your therapist and the therapeutic approach they use.
Be prepare to be vulnerable
Therapy can be scary and occasionally opening up to a random stranger about your most intimacy and conflicts can be intimidating. But for a relationship counseling to be effective, the natural instincts to protect oneself should be held back and be prepared to open up to every inquiry.
Therapists are not made to give you an answer to what to do rather, they guide you in finding the necessary ways to regain control and resolve conflicts. Therapy helps when YOU put in the work and time.