Everyone has heard of marriage counseling, or as is more commonly called now, couples therapy. However it is hard for people to find information on what marriage counseling is, if they would benefit from it, and to face the issue of whether their relationship needs counseling.
The reality is, relationships are hard work. Very hard work. They require perseverance, forgiveness, trust, and perhaps hardest of all- vulnerability. Add in the stress of everyday life or...a pandemic, and people find themselves reverting to behaviors they are not proud of and facing uncertainty about the future of their relationship.
What is Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy?
Couples therapy is a form of therapy where both yourself and your partner will be seen together to identify and work on a specific problem. Sometimes that issue is obvious, such as an affair or decision to divorce. Most often, couples realize they have fallen into distressing patterns such as frequent fighting, lack of communication, poor intimacy or difficulty deciding on a future together.
As a couples therapist and clinical psychologist, I believe that we all have patterns of communication, attachment and emotional availability that are born in early experiences with our family and continue in a cycle in our adult relationships. We often choose partners that interact in a familiar way to us and find ourselves sliding into patterns reflective of our family's..whether that is a good or bad thing.
Couples therapy will help each individual understand the emotionally unfinished business they are bringing into a relationship, and develop healthier communication skills, resolve conflict and increase satisfaction in a relationship. Dysfunctional patterns or problems couples feel stuck on can be halted and seen with a new perspective in order to stop repeating an unhelpful cycle.
What does the First Session Look Like?
The first session will be held over Zoom or in person. It will be an evaluation of the problem at hand and of both you and your partner's individual history and history as a couple. We will form a narrative of your relationship together, and how todays issues are embedded in the context of your history and relationship. Sometimes, depending on the problem at hand, you will be additionally asked to meet alone with the therapist. This is usually done if a couple is not on the same page about their goals or is withholding information that would be beneficial to share. A therapist will tell you how marriage counseling can work for you, or if they recommend pursuing individual therapy first.
Who Could Benefit from Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy?
Couples therapy is not only for those having issues. In fact, I recommend couples therapy for any couple navigating changes and transitions such as moving in together, getting married or having children. These are all key points in a relationship that change dynamics like intimacy, connection, test communication and most importantly, call for a revaluation of roles in a relationship. Often these changes are subtle and may lead to friction in the relationship without the understanding of what is occurring.
Couples in the process of deciding to stay together or separate, affairs and those with communication or intimacy issues are often seen in couples therapy. I do not believe that an affair or decision to change the structure of a relationship means the end of a relationship.
What If My Partner or I had an Affair, Is there Hope?
Yes. Affairs happen for a wide range of reasons and often timing is a significant factor predicting the outcome of a relationship. Most often, affairs in long term relationships happen because issues in the relationship have deepened and fractured intimacy, trust and connection to the point that a person seeks elsewhere for emotional validation, excitement or support. This is not to excuse an affair, the individual who had the affair has to be willing to be take responsibility, work on their own issues as well as pursue couples therapy. An affair, while painful and devastating can lead to emotional growth in a relationship and eventually to a healthy relationship. A couples therapist will speak to you about the roots of the affair and whether the person who has been betrayed should open themselves up to becoming vulnerable again.
When Should I Seek Marriage Counseling?
Now. According to Dr. John Gottman, a leader in the field of couples therapy and marriage counseling, the average couple waits 6 years before seeking help. This statistic in itself is alarming, as all that suffering, pain and doubt can be avoided by coming to couples therapy at the first signs of an issue. If you are reading this article, you most likely could benefit from couples therapy. Remember, it not about your relationship being in trouble or bad, but about learning to work best as a team to have both of your needs met in a relationship and improve relationship satisfaction.
What if my Partner does not want to Come to Marriage Counseling or Couples Therapy?
This is a frequent issue. Try sitting down with your partner and explaining that the purpose of couples therapy is not to blame, or decide who is right and who is wrong. It is to finally rid your relationship of unhelpful patterns and increase satisfaction in a relationship. It is ok for someone in the relationship to be hesitant about coming, try asking them to commit to 3 sessions, or even one and then reevaluating. Ask them to be honest about why they do not want to go to couples therapy. If a partner is adamant about not coming, you may want to try individual therapy until the situation has changed.
Does a Couples Therapist Take Sides?
No, you are both the client. This means that there is no "right or wrong" or one person to blame. In marriage counseling, we consider the needs of both partners, no matter what the history involved. The exception is if there is abuse of any form, which it will then be recommended that couples therapy should not be pursued.
How Long Does Couples Therapy Last?
Each couples session is 50 minutes long and initially couples are seen weekly. Session are then spread out to once every other week, with tasks to carry out between sessions. If you are facing a crisis in your relationship, more intense work can be done over a few hours at a time. These sessions can be done via Zoom or in person.
Usually the average length of couples therapy is 3 months. This may vary depending on the issues the couple wants to work on.
If you like to meet to discuss how couples therapy can be helpful for you, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp 0125472408.
MindWell is a psychology centre in Malaysia. I am a psychologist in the Mont Kiara area with a doctorate from the US in clinical psychology. I use a mix of cognitive behavioral therapy, Gottman's techniques and emotionally focused therapy to approach couples and marriage therapy.