A failing marriage or relationship is an incredible difficult and painful time that can be hard on both partners as well as a range of third parties such as children, friends and relatives. After being together for a certain duration it becomes highly important to fight for that relationship and to work at rebuilding the love and understanding that you clearly once had.
To that end many people will consider couples therapy as a way to get some professional help in dealing with their problems and getting back the intimacy and love. But is this an advisable move? Is it something that genuinely works? And should you consider it for your relationship? Here we will assess the effectiveness of couples therapy and precisely what it entails.
What Is Couples Therapy?
First of all it is important to draw attention to the differences between relationship counselling, couple therapy and marriage counselling. Essentially relationship counselling consists of counselling for the parties of a relationship so that differences can be addressed or reconciled. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a married couple – but could also be used for family members, employees in a work place, between clients and businesses partners or even between sports teams and expedition teams.
Couple therapy meanwhile tends to be around 1-3 sessions and these tend to focus on the history of the couple to address emotional issues and problems that have occurred. Marriage counselling can be either of the above or a combination, though of course this focuses on married couples.
Principles and Practices
Sessions will generally begin by understanding the individuals who exist within the relationship (sometimes also including the therapist themselves). This means assessing their personality, perceptions and their values – such as their religion, politics and morals. These values can dictate the way we live our lives and often underpin all of our actions and decisions, but often go unexamined – even by the individuals themselves.
From here other aspects of the relationship can be examined. For instance maladaptive patterns will be examined – which are negative cycles in a relationship that are often being repeated. These are usually triggered by other underlying problems which can be things like insecurity, ego, jealousy, anger, communication issues or poor problem solving (or any combination of these).
Other things that can cause problems are changes in the couple’s situation – such as health issues, financial difficulties, locations, employment, or other family members. In most cases there is a complex interplay of factors that need to be addressed.
Often just being aware of the forces at work in their relationship, and the origins of the problems, can help couples to feel differently and use better conflict resolution. However counsellors will also normally provide some form of viable solution or change in behaviour and this can help to address some of the issues or at least the way the couple react to them. Each partner is asked to take equal responsibility for the problems and to change the way they think and feel about the relationship (and about their mental ‘love map’ as it is called by John Gottman).
The actual way that therapists go about facilitating these changes varies depending on the therapist. Two well known practices are:
Active Listening: This involves creating a safe environment for each party to express themselves to their partner and the therapist without interruption or criticism. Studies suggest that less than five percent of marital interactions involve one party actively listening to their partner, and this is a great way for each member of the relationship to put across their point of view, and to get their feelings off of their chest.
Emotionally Focused Therapy: Here the focus is on the emotions rather than discussion or actions. This means admitting an emotional attachment to your partner and learning to nurture this dependence.
Does it Work?
So the remaining question is whether any of these methods work. This of course will depend on many factors – it depends on the therapist, on the personalities involved, on the couple, and on your willingness to give the process a proper chance and to be open to it. While it does not work in every case though, studies have suggested that it is effective in a good number of instances, and it very rarely will have negative impacts on your relationship. As such, if you are currently struggling to see eye to eye with your partner, then it might pay to put aside your preconceptions and pride and to give it a shot. Just make sure to spend time researching the particular kind of counselling you are going for, and the credentials and success rate of the person you are seeing.
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