Couples Counseling

Couples counseling can help you navigate urgent concerns, address ongoing issues, or learn general relationship skills.

People choose to see a couples counselor for many reasons. The catalyst could be a pressing, urgent issue that you're not currently equipped to handle, or it could be a subtly simmering issue that you want to tackle before one of you snaps. Still other couples choose to go to a therapist simply to build relationship skills or grow closer as a couple. The exact focus of your treatment will depend on the particulars of your relationship, and your therapist’s approach.

The average couple waits six years to address an ongoing issue through couples counseling. If you're experiencing issues in your relationship, consider seeking couples counseling early on! Here's a breakdown of what you need to know about this type of therapy.

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What couples counseling can help with

Here are a few areas that couples counseling can help you with:

Who couples counseling is for

Couples counseling is for any couple – married, non-married, monogamous, polyamorous, or even an individual working on a partnered relationship.

This form of therapy can be helpful for couples of any kind – whether you're in a long-term relationship, long-distance, or an open relationship (or considering entering one). And you don’t need to be married (or monogamous) to seek couples counseling.

If you’re interested in working on a partnered relationship but your partner is unwilling to attend sessions, you can even begin couples counseling by starting to attend on your own.

Effectiveness of couples counseling

Research shows couples counseling is highly effective at improving relationships and emotional health.

Studies indicate that counseling can be an effective treatment on both an individual and a shared level for couples who are facing issues in their relationships:

Approaches in couples counseling

Couples counseling isn't a single, unified approach to therapy. In fact, within the field of couples counseling, there are different schools of thought, such as:

Your couples counselor may specialize in one particular approach, or they may integrate several different modalities into treatment.

Regardless of methodology, the aim of couples counseling is to provide a safe, non-judgmental space for you and your partner to reconnect and tackle whatever issues or concerns you're facing in your relationship.  

Length and duration of couples counseling

As with any therapy, the number of sessions you have with a couples counselor can vary; but generally speaking, couples counseling tends to be shorter-term than individual counseling.

Depending on your goals and challenge, you might see a counselor for only a few sessions, or you might continue for several weeks or months; the average number of sessions with a marriage and family therapist typically 12. [3]

What to expect in couples counseling sessions

While the exact structure of your treatment will depend on your specific needs and your therapists' approach, here is the general structure of what you can expect from couples counseling:

Related: How to Prepare for Couples Counseling: 7 Ways to Get Ready for Your First Session

What to look for in a couples counselor

  1. Prioritize someone who has experience working with similar clients, and whom both you and your partner feel comfortable with. Since every couples therapist is different, both you and your partner should be comfortable opening up in sessions. You may also prefer to work with someone who has experience working with clients who either had similar backgrounds, were facing similar challenges, or both.
  2. Look for someone who has experience working with clients who are similar to you. You might prefer to look for a counselor who has experience with couples who share some aspect of your identity, such as LGBTQ+ or interracial couples. Also, if you're facing a specific issue that is relatively niche – such as co-parenting through adoption, or entering an open relationship – don't be afraid to ask the therapist if they have experience working with similar clients.
  3. Remember that couples counselors should remain neutral – if you feel your therapist is taking sides, don't be afraid to look for a new therapist. Couples therapists will never take sides in any disputes. The therapist is there to work with both parties equally and will do their best to balance each partner’s goals and concerns. If you don't feel like that's the case with your therapist, consider looking for a new fit.

Related: 6 Steps To Finding The Best Couples Counselor Near You

New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.

Resources:

1: The average couple waits six years to address an ongoing issue with couples counseling. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4115001/#R43
2:https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00249.x
3:https://www.aamft.org/About_AAMFT/About_Marriage_and_Family_Therapists.aspx