What is couples counseling?
Couples counseling creates a safe space for you as a couple to explore your emotions as well as the language you express yourself with. It creates a space where a well trained nonjudgmental, unbiased third party helps re-frame, explore, and bring curiosity and clarity to your relationship.
It is difficult for individuals to understand themselves, let alone how others may be experiencing them. Therapy provides a professional perspective that may provide insight and understanding towards relationship barriers. Your intimate relationship has a huge impact on you as an individual and on the wider system of which you are a part. Helping you build a healthier relationship can have ripple effects far wider than just you as a couple.
There have also been a lot of cultural and societal misconceptions and myths about what relationships should look like, and couples counseling can help normalize what you experience.
How do I know I need couples counseling?
All couples can benefit from counseling. If you are the happiest you have been, it's a great time to go and explore what is helping you to be happy and to continue to be intentional about checking in with your partner.
If there’s a problem for one person, then there’s a problem for the relationship. Most couples wait too long before attending couples counseling, and by then it requires a lot of hard work to repair, or it may even be too late. Couples counseling should be viewed as a preventative measure, like a check-up with a doctor.
When you’re “feeling stuck” in your relationship, bringing in a neutral third party is helpful to point out tendencies and patterns within the relationship. A couples therapist can help you identify unhealthy patterns in which you have become stuck and work with you on ways to get out of those patterns. It can be difficult to see these patterns when you exist in the relationship because they are normal or expected -- they are part of the relationship system. The goal is to provide tools and strategies that will address the underlying issues that may be steering you towards certain tendencies, attitudes, or behaviors that keep you stuck. Couples counseling provides a neutral, safe space for couples to be more vulnerable and honest with each other.
All couples can benefit from counseling even before any issues arise. Counseling provides a safe space that you can strengthen and sharpen your tools, while also having an established space to be able to explore areas for growth or when times get more challenging. Communication regarding expectations, roles, and family of origin issues are helpful in creating a strong foundation. Everyone enters their marriage with baggage and continue to pack their bags throughout their life journey. Change is inevitable as well as new experiences such as parenting and other stages of life.
Preventative counseling is the most effective counseling, just as preventative medicine tends to be more effective. Relationships are hard and take work, and having support in the form of couples therapy can be very important.
What life circumstances might necessitate counseling?
Moving in together
Lack of healthy communication
Feelings of resentment
Feelings of distrust
Feeling that needs are not being met
Lack of physical intimacy
Lack of emotional intimacy
Lack of quality time, busyness
Unproductive conversations about the same issues over and over
Unhealed wounds that keep coming up
What can I expect from couples counseling?
In your first session, your counselor will discuss the logistics of confidentiality, paperwork, and time of sessions, as well as policies. Time is then open for you to tell your counselor how you met, who you are, and what goals you are hoping to achieve. You may be asked to share your expectations and hopes for therapy, present your issues and the history of those issues, and share your family of origin stories. Some therapists may use a formal assessment to guide you through this process. The therapist will also share about their approach and how they view couples counseling.
Techniques may include:
Emotional Focused therapy techniques
Relational and experiential theories/techniques
Emotionally Focused Couples therapy (EFT)
At times, couples counseling can be more solution-focused, but most of the time it is a long term process. You may be coming in during a crisis or in a more preventative way. The relationship between you and the therapist takes time to build, as well as the trust between you and your partner, especially if you’ve waited a while before seeking counseling. As the trust builds, that ability for all in the room to be vulnerable increases and allows for deeper work to be done.
Duration also depends on the factors that brings couples in. Within this process, other unforeseen factors could lead to deeper, time required work. The duration of couples counseling also depends on the ability of each individual to work together towards finding resolution and changing individual attitudes towards one another. For some this happens sooner rather than later.
Goals are created for you to reach, and when the goals are met, future goals are reassessed and decided on together. Once the relationship is established, it also allows for a space for the couple to return to should they want to check in or continue to have a space to further explore their emotions and their relationship.
More effective counseling will generally take longer, as it seeks to address deeper, underlying issues and not just to give couples tools to address superficial conflicts. Preventative counseling may be more short term.
Will my significant other and I come together or separately?
It depends. This is something that is usually discussed in the therapy session after the therapist has an understanding of your goals. Typically, you will see your therapist together, but there may be circumstances for which it makes sense to see the therapist separately, especially for a limited period of time to discuss a specific issue.
Some therapists always meet with each partner individually once, to get their family history and expectations for counseling in the beginning. They may occasionally meet with one of you on an individual basis after that, if it feels beneficial to the relationship and the overall goals of counseling.
How will couples counseling help my relationship in the long run?
Most of the work of couples counseling must happen outside of the counseling office in order for change to occur, as you work to interact with your significant other in different, healthier ways. Some of the work is understanding each other on deeper, more intimate levels, but some of the work is learning really practical tools to prevent unhealthy patterns from continuing.
Therapy is a great place to explore emotions and learn the language of how to communicate the emotion to your partner. Learning to be more vulnerable with one another and building trust are a few hot topics in couples counseling, and doing those things takes consistent, active practice.
Techniques are taught with a strength-based model, using your existing techniques and strengths to create new techniques. Techniques focus on softening and creating connection.
What about premarital counseling?
Premarital counseling is a time where many topics are explored and allows for a space for couples to really look at their strengths and weaknesses, as well as learn tools to aid with your weaknesses and to look at whether or not this is the right fit for you. Planning the wedding can quickly overtake the important part of planning for a marriage and premarital counseling creates a designated time to do that, as well as facilitates conversations outside of the session for the couple to continue to explore.
Communication regarding expectations, roles, and family of origin issues are helpful in creating a strong foundation. Premarital counseling essentially is part of preventative therapy. Just like preventative counseling, premarital counseling is important because it helps couples address potential issues before they become bigger problems. It also normalizes counseling, and establishes a relationship with a therapist, should the couple need or want to seek out counseling in the future.
Premarital counseling is usually short-term and more structured.
What makes Mindful Counseling different?
In addition to many collective years of experience, three of the therapists at Mindful Counseling are LLMFT’s, Limited Licensed Marriage Family Therapists. The LLMFT's also have specific supervision with LMFT's.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) -
Requires additional Master's level courses, including courses in family systems, family therapies, sex therapy, couples therapy, and a practicum working with couples.
Must obtain at least 300 direct client contact hours in supervised clinical marriage and family therapy experience.
Must obtain at least 1,000 hours of direct client contact that is obtained post-degree and supervised by a Licensed MFT.
Additional experience and credentials include: Prepare and Enrich Premarital counseling certification, affairs, blended families, dissolving a union, coparenting, different life cycle stages, high conflict, rebuilding trust, and Gottman Method Couples therapy, including assisting in the Gottman’s Art and Science of Love Workshop.