Couples counseling is a type of psychotherapy that helps those involved in a romantic relationship gain insight into their interactions, identify negative communication styles, resolve conflict, and find strategies and tools to improve and strengthen the relationship. Couples therapy doesn’t always have to be used to “repair” a relationship, but could also be a proactive and positive way to end a relationship or marriage.
Additionally, it’s a common misconception that couples counseling means your relationship is having difficulties; however, at Clarity Clinic we believe all couples may benefit from counseling. Several factors, both internal and external to the relationship, may contribute to difficulties and stress between couples. Becoming new parents, infidelity, sexual dissatisfaction, and money problems are common triggers of a shift or tension between partners. Sometimes, untreated individual disorders such as anxiety, anger management issues or depression can cause or increase stress and strain on a relationship.
Our couples counselors assist clients as they work to identify and resolve the conflicting behaviors and patterns that are preventing the relationship from progressing. Our counselors help couples apply goal-oriented efforts toward building a healthy relationship based on respect, support, and trust.
No matter your age, marital status, or sexual orientation our licensed staff will tailor treatment to the needs of the couple. We pride ourselves on valuing one's culture, race, religion, and gender as key components of identity within couples counseling.
Couples therapy provides couples with a safe space to allow for open communication with a third-party (therapist) to identify patterns of behavior or communication that are negatively impacting the couple and/or the family unit. Many times, as hard as they try to resolve the conflict on their own, couples may continue to fall back into learned patterns that affect the couple’s ability to relate and connect with each other, eventually eroding and straining the relationship.
Couples therapy is designed to provide insight into these patterns and identify strategies for changing behavior and communication.
At Clarity Clinic, our skilled clinicians are trained in several different evidence-based approaches to working with couples. Some of the treatment strategies used include:
Gottman Method Couples Therapy was developed after researching more than 3,000 couples. Drs. John and Julie Gottman determined that the most successful relationships involve a strong friendship, conflict management skills, and support for the other partner's hopes for the future.
The Gottman process includes completion of an online assessment which is scored and reviewed by the therapist. This assessment is then used to develop a treatment plan to meet the specific needs of each couple. The assessment and associated treatment plan address:
· Friendship and Intimacy: relationship satisfaction, romance, admiration, emotional disengagement, breakup proneness
· The Safety Scales: trust, chaos, commitment, and emotional philosophies
· The Conflict Scales: stress, relationship harshness, and conflict management tactics
· The Shared Meaning System: shared rituals, values, and goals in a relationship
· Individual Areas of Concern: individual risks, safety, sex, depression, drug and alcohol use, domestic violence, anxiety, and other psychological or psychiatric issues requiring attention
With 20 years of outcome and process research to draw upon, Emotionally Focused Couple’s Therapy (EFT) is one of the most empirically validated approaches to couples therapy. EFT is a brief systemic approach that assumes that couple distress is maintained by: 1) the ways in which partners organize and process their emotional experiences, and 2) the patterns of interaction they engage in as a result of their emotions. This approach has been proven to help decrease, eliminate, and prevent couple conflict and distress by helping partners to create a secure bond. This secure bond is the key element in working through disagreements and attaining that happy, satisfying, and fulfilling partnership partners have either desperately missed, or have been searching for their whole lives.
The decision to seek counseling is a personal, yet brave and courageous one. Couples looking for a “quick” fix or short-term solution to relationship-long challenges may not see the progress or changes they had hoped for, as couples therapy requires continuous and consistent awareness for long-term change. Therapy must be a mutual decision and not something that is forced upon the other partner. Both partners should have a desire to gain insight and awareness into the role each person plays in the struggle of the relationship.
The goal of therapy is to learn about yourself and your partner and to identify the patterns of behavior or communication that are causing stress in your relationship. Therapy takes time, self-reflection of yourself and empathy toward your partner.
The first session may vary based on the therapist, but some therapists request that they speak to each couple separately part of the session and then bring them in together, while some therapists will work with both partners together throughout the initial consultation. During the first session, therapists will ask the couple to provide a history of the relationship, inquiry about the dynamic of the relationship, ask them to identify the issues or concerns causing them distress and determine the reasons individually that brought them to therapy. The therapist is also interested in observing how the couple communicates, reacts/responds to each other and their goals of therapy.
Couples participating in therapy should recognize that the process of change takes time and patience. Therapy is hard work and not a quick fix. The undesired patterns of behavior or interactions have become a long-term habit or impulsive response and couples will need to challenge themselves to become aware of their reactions to make changes. It is not enough to recognize ad acknowledge those patterns in therapy; implementing new strategies outside of session is key to long-term change.
Couples therapy offers a variety of benefits but key concepts include:
Re-establishing an emotional connection between partners. Chances are, the emotional connection is one of the initial reasons the couple came together. Therapy can help identify and re-establish the foundation of the relationship and help couples rebuild their emotional connection.
Improving communication. The therapist can identify and challenge negative communication styles and help the couple identify more effective communication techniques and skills to resolve conflict.
Developing a mutual understanding of each other’s differences and how these differences can be respected and accepted by each partner through empathy.
Strengthening of the family unit. Most likely children in families in which the parents or adults are in constant conflict are affected by the distress of the relationship. Couples therapy can be extremely helpful in providing support to the family as a whole.
Many times clients ask whether it is a waste of time to seek therapy or continue couples therapy after one or both partners have agreed to a separation or divorce. However, separation and divorce can cause inevitable pain, grief and loss, not only for the partner, but for all members of a family. Therapy can help couples and families through the process of separation and divorce. Therapy during this trying time can help:
Determine whether separation or divorce is right for your relationship. Unfortunately, many times couples seek therapy at the very end of their relationship when one or both partners have one foot out the door. However, couples therapy during this stage of the relationship can help partners determine if they are willing to fight for the relationship and make the changes need to reconnect or whether separation and/or divorce is the best option.
Help the couples identify effective communication skills after the separation or divorce. If couples have children, property, pets together, they recognize that they will need to interact and communicate even after the separation and divorce. Therapy can help those couples who recognize the continuity of the relationship in another form other than as a couple, and identify effective communication skills and tools to cultivate neutrality and respect for each other for future interactions.
Finding ways to communicate the separation or divorce to children. Not only will the partners who are separating be affected emotionally, children and other family members may also experience grief and loss, as well as uncertainty and confusion during the process. Couples therapy can help the parents/caregivers with ways to communicate the separation to children, as well as ways to help the parents/caregivers work through the feelings of the children. Couples therapy can also help with co-parenting strategies and tools to ensure the focus of parenting post-divorce is on the children.
Additionally, family therapy is recommended after separation and divorce to help children and other family members process the change and help them navigate their feelings during a stage of uncertainty and confusion.
One of the more stressful things about couples therapy is actually getting there. Asking your partner or spouse to attend couples therapy together can be an anxiety-provoking conversation and usually conjures up preconceived expectations or responses that contribute to the stress of the conversation. Below are some suggestions to help the conversation:
Identify an appropriate time to bring up the topic, when your partner isn’t overwhelmed or distracted by other stressors. It is typically not a good idea to discuss therapy during a heated argument or conflict.
Use “I” statements when approaching the conversation so that your partner doesn’t immediately put up a defensive mode and assume he/she is the “problem.” For example, “I am feeling very stressed/upset about this relationship and recognize the role I play in our conflicts. I would like to start couples therapy to help identify new ways to communicate effectively.“ Expressing your feelings in a non-confrontational way can help diffuse any potential conflict and reduce rejection of the idea.
Identify ways to bring up the idea of couples therapy in a non-threatening way. If your partner continues to immediately reject the idea, maybe write a letter or an email expressing your feelings and highlighting the benefits of couples therapy as a way to build and strengthen your connection, potentially including facts or research-based information as an objective way to bring up the topic. This gives the partner the time to process the information.
Couples therapy unfortunately is not a magic solution and is not guaranteed treatment to fix relationships. Many times couples therapy works in helping couples recognize the desire to fight for their relationship and other times therapy works in helping couples recognize that they are not in a healthy relationship and that the individuals may be better off separating. Couples sessions give clients a safe and empathic space to work through these challenges and questions.
Several of Clarity Clinic’s licensed counselors are also certified Prepare and Enrich facilitators. Prepare and Enrich is a customized couples assessment completed online that identifies a couple's strength and growth areas. It is one of the most widely used programs for premarital counseling, premarital education, marital counseling, marriage enrichment, and dating couples considering engagement.
Based upon a couple’s assessment results, a trained facilitator provides 5 feedback sessions in which the facilitator helps the couple discuss and understand their results as they are taught proven relationship skills.