Transform Your Relationship: How Couples Counseling Can Strengthen Your Bond
Understanding Relationship Challenges
Every day, we’re flooded with imagery and messaging about what the “perfect” relationship is supposed to look like. We see happy, smiling, head over heels in love couples all over social media, in films and TV shows, and even in our own families and communities. But it’s time to drop the facade and talk about the real deal. Relationships aren’t perfect because humans aren’t perfect, and that’s okay. If you’re having issues with your spouse or partner, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone.
Relationships bring together two unique individuals with their own personalities and needs. Sometimes opposites really do attract, and a couple could come from entirely different cultural backgrounds, see the world in different ways, or potentially have distinct trauma from their childhoods or previous partners. In addition, all of us are constantly changing, and at various times in our lives, we have different needs, goals, and priorities. A lot can change over the course of a relationship, and we often aren’t the same people we were at the beginning.
Maybe you and your partner are 100% compatible on paper, but you still can’t make it work and don’t know why. In life, it’s sometimes hard to manage our actions and emotions, so it’s no wonder that conflicts can arise in our interactions with romantic partners.
Therapy, as a tool to understand ourselves, our behaviors, and our emotions, has stood the test of time. And today, more than ever, seeking help from a mental health professional is seen as a normal and healthy part of self-care. Just as going to therapy as an individual has become more common and accessible, so has marriage and couples counseling.
In couples counseling, you and your partner can explore topics that may be causing tension or dysfunction. If you’ve ever found yourself saying or thinking any of the following statements, this type of therapy could be an effective way to improve your relationship:
- Why do we keep having the same arguments over and over again?
- Why doesn’t my partner listen to me? Do they even understand me?
- I feel more alone in this relationship than when I was single.
- We aren’t as close as we used to be. Why have we grown apart?
- We just can’t seem to get on the same page about anything anymore!
Qualified therapists, like those at Start My Wellness, can help you and your partner dive deep into understanding the roots of these conflicts to explore the roles you play in them. You will gain a valuable perspective on your relationship by seeking out an unbiased third party. This objective guidance equips you with the skills to rebuild your bond and navigate conflicts more effectively.
Benefits of Couples Therapy: The Power of Early Intervention
Dr. John Gottman, one of the most well known professionals in the world of couples therapy, reportedly said it takes couples an average of six years of feeling unhappy before seeking help. That is a long time to feel frustrated and misunderstood. Of course, it can be hard to get started in couples therapy, but try to remember – the goal is to understand your relationship and see what both people can do to improve it.
Couples tend to wait so long before seeking help, most likely, because people sometimes see therapy as a “last resort” or an admission of failure in their marriage or partnership. This is the same as a person not seeking treatment for themselves because it implies something is so wrong with them that they need a professional to “fix” it. In reality, however, therapy and couples therapy should really be seen as opportunities for growth and development.
Enhancing Communication and Conflict Resolution Skills
You are a complex, unique individual, and so is your partner. In this way, any interaction between you is key to unlocking deeper connections and understanding. Couples often seek therapy to tackle one of the most common challenges: communication. And let’s be honest, it’s not just about what we say to each other. It’s about truly comprehending what we need from our partners and whether those expectations are grounded in reality. This is where couples counseling shines as a transformative tool – it empowers individuals to express their thoughts and emotions with clarity and vulnerability in a safe environment with professional and compassionate guidance.
Imagine the profound difficulty of navigating a relationship when you’re unsure of your partner’s thoughts and feelings, or worse yet when you’re uncertain about your own needs and desires. Effective and empathetic communication between partners can only occur when each person has come to deeply understand themselves so they can see how their behavioral patterns impact the relationship. Couples therapy provides an invaluable platform for illuminating these patterns. Its primary goal is to foster self-awareness, allowing you to explore the depths of your experiences, expectations, and aspirations within the relationship. Through this introspective journey, you learn to articulate your needs in a way that your partner can genuinely understand and, within reason, aim to meet.
But communication is not a one-way street. True understanding arises when both partners commit to hearing and empathizing with each other’s needs. Couples therapy emphasizes the importance of active listening, providing a safe space for genuine dialogue. It’s about cultivating an environment where your partner feels seen, heard, and validated. By embracing your partner’s perspective, you open the door to a more profound connection, bridging the gaps that often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.
Uncovering Hidden Dynamics and Patterns
In my extensive work with couples, I’ve become fascinated with how often we perceive our partners’ actions through a lens tinted by our past experiences, projecting our hopes, dreams, and disappointments onto them. We carry our relationship history with us (including what we learned from our families), and sometimes we unknowingly superimpose our baggage and past trauma onto the present, viewing our partners as engaging in behaviors they aren’t actually doing. This is called “assuming negative intent,” and it tends to happen after we’ve become so discouraged with a relationship that we only expect the worst from our partner.
Couples unwittingly engage in dynamics that remain concealed beneath the surface, and more distressingly, they might not even realize they’re caught up in these patterns. A wise colleague once likened this to a kind of robotic, joyless dance where we find ourselves moving to a particular rhythm, even if we despise the steps or desire a different melody altogether. Sometimes couples play out dynamics that they are unaware of. To the individual, it simply feels like “this is just the way it is” or “My partner always does X or Y, so why do I expect anything different.” This mindset is incredibly harmful for relationships, so if you identify with any of these sentiments, it may be time for you to consider individual or couples counseling.
Navigating Couples Therapy
Determining whether the challenges in your partnership stem from within the relationship or from individual factors can be perplexing. Should you begin with couples therapy or embark on an individual journey? The truth is, you can start with either. Engaging in couples therapy may illuminate personal challenges that need addressing alongside relationship conflicts, prompting you to seek individual help or vice versa. It’s important to remember that if this happens to you, it doesn’t indicate a deficit in character or personal failure. A loving relationship thrives when both individuals prioritize their mental and emotional well-being, taking proactive steps to care for themselves and showing up wholeheartedly in the relationship.
Setting Realistic Goals and Fostering Self-Awareness
In your journey through couples therapy, you should meet with your therapist as frequently as possible, ideally at least once a week. You’ll want to closely examine the fine print of your relationship – the interactions, the missteps, and the moments of connection. Remember, the goal of therapy is not to attain perfection in your relationship but rather to forge connections around shared experiences that strengthen your bond. Ultimately, you’ll know it’s time to conclude couples therapy when you can genuinely comprehend your partner and confidently communicate your needs.
A Potential Outcome: When Separation is the Solution
In your work with your couples therapist, you might come to realize that your partner may be unable to meet your needs or, conversely, that you may be unable to meet theirs. Here’s the crucial insight – couples therapy isn’t about the relationship’s success or demise, and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed couples therapy if the relationship ends. Instead, its purpose and reward lie in enabling you to gain clarity regarding your needs, priorities, and aspirations. It empowers you to communicate these insights honestly and effectively to yourself and future partners.
If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.
Whether you decide to go to couples counseling or not, it’s essential to try not to blame your partner or see the problems in the relationship as solely their fault or responsibility. Remember that you are two people trying to live with and love each other, which is no easy task when you consider how complex you are as an individual and, even more so, in a relationship. Try to be curious about your role and what you are contributing. The relationship may not work out long-term, but it’s possible for you to grow and be happy despite its ending.
I have found that motivation is key. Both in individual and couples therapy, being motivated to figure out the challenges, taking responsibility, and being willing to change and adapt are significant parts of success. Remember that you’re not alone and that while the journey may be bumpy, celebrating your successes along the way can only bring you closer to your partner and to yourself.
If you don’t know what is bothering you or how to start, we can help you obtain testing to get a better sense of what is troubling you and how to get help. Click here to set up an appointment with a therapist today.