A romantic relationship is one of the closest we have as humans. Choosing a partner and staying together through life's twists and turns is rarely simple. When we choose to get married and raise a family together, unsurprisingly this only adds to the complexity.
Whether you have the odd tiff, full-blown arguments or you have simply stopped having fun - very few relationships exist conflict-free. When this (one of our most important relationships) begins to falter, our health and happiness often suffers. While for many of us our first instinct is to try and work through problems alone, it can be incredibly useful to seek outside help.
One route you may choose to go down is couples counselling - a form of talk therapy designed for those in a relationship. On this page we will look at couples counselling in more detail, including how it can help and some of the common relationship problems explored.
On this page
What is couples counselling?
Couples counselling (which can also be referred to as marriage guidance) is a form of therapy that looks to improve communication and resolve issues within an intimate relationship. In contrast to counselling for relationship issues, which can be undertaken solely through individual sessions, couples counselling is a term applied to talk therapy for two people within a relationship.
With this in mind, counsellors who offer this form of therapy should have the relevant training to help them work with the dynamics of a couple. While couples counselling is ideally suited to couples attending the sessions together, if your partner is reluctant you can look to speak to a couples counsellor on your own to begin with. You may find your partner wants to join you after you have had some initial sessions alone - or you may find it helpful to intersperse couple sessions with individual sessions.
In regards to the techniques used, some of the work you do will take place within your counselling sessions themselves - however many couples counsellors will also ask you to carry out 'homework'. Typically your counsellor will ask you either to do a task or discuss something specific when you get home. During your next session you will get the chance to talk about your homework, discuss any challenges you came up against and how the experience made you both feel.
What couples counselling isn't
It is important to remember that when you go to couples counselling you will not simply be told what to do. Your counsellor is unlikely to offer their personal opinion and you will not be told whether or not you should separate. The role of a couples counsellor is to facilitate change and resolution by helping you both communicate more effectively and reach your own conclusions under the guidance of a professional.
If you are nervous about discussing private matters with a stranger, keep in mind that your counsellor is not there to criticise you; your counselling sessions should be a space free of judgement where you can explore your actions openly.
How can counselling for couples help?
When we have been in a relationship or marriage for a long time it can be easy to fall into a trap of not listening to the other person or not communicating our needs clearly. Sometimes talking to someone with no connection to yourself or your partner is all it takes for you to gain perspective. What couples counselling offers here is the chance to speak to someone with no preconceived notions of who you are as a couple, with the added bonus of having skills and training behind them to guide you through your concerns.
The overall aim of couples counselling is to help you do the following:
- Understand how external factors such as family values, religion, lifestyle and culture affect your relationship.
- Reflect on the past and how it operates in the present.
- Communicate in a more constructive way.
- Learn why arguments escalate.
- Negotiate and resolve conflicts where possible.
As your counselling sessions progress, you and your partner may find a way of overcoming your problems, or you may decide it is time to part ways. Either way, hopefully counselling will offer you the space to grow and decide what you would like the future to hold for both of you.
Common relationship problems explored
There are many different concerns that may bring you to couples counselling, ranging from a lack of communication right through to a betrayal or affair. Some common issues that can be explored through couples counselling include:
- lack of trust
- betrayal or affair
- lack of communication
- financial issues
- work-related stress
- abusive behaviour
- different sexual needs or other sexual issues
- family conflicts
- different goals and values
- different parenting styles
- controlling behaviour
- life changes.
This list is not exhaustive and every situation is unique. Whatever the concern is however, speaking to a professional is often an incredibly helpful step forward.
When is the right time to seek help?
Every couple is different and so when you choose to seek help will depend on the nature of the issue you are facing. If you are concerned about your relationship (for whatever reason) and feel you are unable to reach a conclusion alone, it is likely that you will benefit from couples counselling.
For some, the suggestion of couples counselling is considered a 'last resort' to save a relationship/marriage. While of course this is sometimes the case, you do not have to wait until things get that bad before trying couples counselling. Many couples use therapy sessions as a way to keep their relationship healthy and address any underlying concerns that may become conflicts in the future.
What training and qualifications should a couples counsellor have?
While currently there are no legal regulations in position to stipulate what level of training a couples counsellor needs, it is highly recommended that you check the therapist you seek is experienced in couples counselling.
A diploma level qualification (or equivalent) in couples counselling or related topic will provide assurance and peace of mind that your counsellor has developed the necessary skills. Another way to assure they have undergone specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation that represents couples counsellors.