April 25, 2017
By: Alexa Gelles
Do you find the very idea of relationship counselling quite nerve-wracking or downright scary? If you do, you’re not alone. Many people, especially those with no clue about what to expect, find themselves apprehensive and even somewhat frightened.
When you’re new to couples counselling, it’s natural to have lots of questions about how it works and what it can do for your relationship.
For starters, many couples approach counselling with unrealistic expectations about what it can do for them and their marriage. Some believe that therapy will
- cure all of their marital problems,
- give them concrete advice on things like staying married or getting divorced, or
- try to fix their partner.
Regardless of what ideas you have about therapy, the one thing every couple expects from therapy is to experience a positive change in their relationship.
If you’re feeling unsure about what to expect, read on. This article aims to calm your nerves and ease your fears by offering a look inside the couples therapy experience.
The Beginning Stages of Couples Counselling
In the first few sessions, your counsellor’s main job is to get a clear sense of your relationship and the problems you want to explore in therapy. Your counsellor will likely ask you questions like “what brings you to couples counselling?” and “what do you hope to get out of therapy?” as a way to find out what your goals for therapy are.
Your therapist’s job will also be to listen non-judgmentally to you and your partner, and to establish a trusting relationship. This sets the stage for the work you want to achieve.
During this period, your counsellor may set up individual sessions. This is an opportunity for the counselor to learn more about each person’s unique point of view, expectations, and individual history. These sessions can also be a way to build trust, as they allow the therapist to get to know you, individually, more deeply.
The Therapeutic Process
After your counsellor has a concrete sense of your goals for therapy, they will come up with strategies to help you achieve these. Strategies may include exercises aimed at improving intimacy, communication, problem solving, and conflict management skills.
During this phase, your therapist will encourage you and your partner to explore issues that, in the past, may have seemed impossible to discuss without arguing.
Having a neutral, third-party mediate discussions can help you each see that, while different, the other person’s views are valid in their own way. As a result, counselling can help both of you understand yourselves and the other better, heal past wounds, and strengthen trust and intimacy.
Your counsellor will be there to support you and your partner to make the changes you want. They will also be sure to intervene if things start to get out of hand.
Depending on the complexity and the number of issues the couple brings to the table, therapy can last anywhere from a few sessions, to a few months, to sometimes years! The sooner you work on your relationship, the less therapy you’re likely to need. You and your therapist will decide when therapy is no longer needed. You and your partner can always return for a relationship tune-up whenever you see fit.
Alternatively, one of you may come to the realization you no longer want to try and make the relationship work. Sometimes counselling can just be about figuring out whether or not you want to remain in the relationship you’re in, and taking the steps to separate on good terms.
For couples who are willing to work at their relationship, couples counselling can be enormously beneficial. Counselling can bring about improved interactions, newfound safety and trust, better communication, and new conflict management skills.
As relationship expert John Gottman points out “[w]ithin the worst relational conflicts lie the greatest opportunities for growth and intimacy.” By learning how to better love our partners, we can achieve the relationship of our dreams.