Is It Time To Seek Help From A Couples Counselor?

Updated September 11, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Couples counseling is one of the best ways to address problems in a relationship. It is non-judgmental and constructive; couples counseling isn't focused on assigning blame or deciding which partner is right or wrong. Couples counseling has a rich history based on decades of scientific research, and today's methods have demonstrated effectiveness with most couples. Recent research suggests that over 70% of couples who attend therapy report significant improvement in their relationships.  

There are many approaches to couples counseling, all of them evidence-based. Focuses usually include improving communication, increasing intimacy, and developing problem-solving skills. The therapist acts as a facilitator and neutral guide for the couple and helps structure the sessions in a manner that promotes healthy, open communication. Partners can seek help from a couples counselor at any point in the relationship, but experts suggest that attending therapy early before problems become overwhelming produces the best results.

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When To Pursue Couple's Counseling

There are many reasons a couple might attend therapy; there are no specific criteria a relationship needs to meet before it is eligible for counseling. Almost any problem that disrupts the relationship is suitable for couples counseling, and counseling can also be attended proactively to prevent problems before they appear.

Couple's counseling – and other relationship therapies – are expected to be some of the most sought-after forms of psychotherapy in the coming decade. Couples counseling once had a difficult time establishing its reputation. Although the techniques of couples counseling are evidence-based and effective, the stigma surrounding couples counseling may have prevented many from seeking the help of a therapist.

In the past, couples therapy has been mired by numerous myths and misconceptions. Two myths are especially common and particularly harmful. The first is that once a relationship needs the help of a therapist, it is already too late to improve it. The second is that couples counseling is reserved only for problems that are so severe or overwhelming that there is no realistic chance for the couple to manage them without assistance.

Neither of those myths is supported by evidence. Couples counseling regularly improves relationships; 70% of couples report a happier relationship after attending therapy. The evidence contradicts the second myth as well. Although couples may be tempted to delay visiting a counselor until they no longer feel that their relationship concerns are within their control, evidence suggests that those who see a counselor at the first sign of trouble have more success in therapy than those who wait.

If you're wondering when to begin couples counseling, the answer is likely "as soon as possible." If you're concerned about problems in your relationship, a couples counselor can likely help. You can pursue counseling for any issue that affects your relationship. You can also initiate counseling for individual concerns you and your partner will tackle as a team, like when one spouse is overcoming a substance use disorder.

Here are some other common reasons that couples seek therapy:

  • Problems communicating with kindness and empathy.
  • Emotional distance or "falling out of love."
  • Financial disagreements or other practical relationship problems.
  • Unequal division of labor between partners.
  • Challenges associated with trust or trustworthy behavior.
  • Concerns related to sexual or non-sexual intimacy.

When To Avoid Marriage Counseling

While marriage counseling is a good option for almost any marital problem, there is a specific circumstance where it should be avoided: abusive relationships. The National Domestic Violence Hotline recommends that marriage counseling should be avoided if either spouse displays any of the following:

  • Violence against you, other people, or property.
  • Aggressive behavior, including shouting, throwing objects, or other forms of intimidation.
  • Controlling behavior, including monitoring who you socialize with, how you dress, how you spend money, or other factors in your life.
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If you feel your relationship may be abusive, strongly consider meeting with a counselor independently or contacting an appropriate resource before initiating marriage counseling. Couples therapy is often ineffective in abusive relationships. In some instances, the therapeutic process can worsen abusive behavior. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing dangerous or abusive behavior at the hands of their partner, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also seek assistance through the hotline's online chat.

How Couples Counseling Works

Couples counseling is a safe space devoid of judgment or negativity, fostering an environment that encourages personal growth and understanding. It is not a courtroom where spouses present their cases, awaiting the therapist's verdict. The therapist is an impartial guide and facilitator, empowering couples to understand themselves and their relationship. The bedrock of this transformative journey lies in cultivating empathy—an indispensable quality in any romantic relationship. The therapist fosters an atmosphere of openness and compassion, enabling open and honest discussion.

Occasionally, couples find themselves at odds regarding the decision to pursue counseling. These "mixed-agenda" partnerships involve one party considering or leaning toward terminating the relationship while the other wishes to address the issues through therapy. In such instances, the therapist may suggest discernment counseling.

Discernment counseling, another scientifically supported approach, is designed to help couples mutually decide the future of their relationship. Upon completion of the discernment counseling process, the couple is presented with three options: maintaining the relationship as it stands, terminating the relationship, or choosing to address relationship issues through therapy.

Should both partners decide to pursue therapy and actively work on revitalizing their relationship, the therapist will begin by helping the couple establish goals for therapy. Recognizing that every couple's experience is unique is part of the therapist's expertise. The therapist thoughtfully selects the techniques most likely to be helpful. This may involve utilizing a single method or combining multiple techniques. Therapists also modify approaches to suit the needs of a particular couple.

Throughout the therapy process, the couple constantly updates their goals, providing feedback to the therapist regarding the effectiveness of the interventions. The couple does most of the work outside the therapy session, completing homework assignments and skill-building activities as required. The therapist monitors the couple's progress and adjusts the therapeutic approach to help them stay on track toward their goals. 

As the couple progresses through their therapy goals, the therapist will help them decide when to terminate therapy. Couples therapy is not designed to be a long, drawn-out process. Most couples are prepared to conclude their counseling journey after an average of 12 sessions.

Does Couples Counseling Help?

Couples counseling is an extremely well-supported branch of psychotherapy. Couples therapy evolved over many decades, incorporating the latest advances and learnings of psychology, relationship science, and interpersonal theories as it was developed. 

The techniques used in couples therapy have a robust foundation and are continually updated by ongoing research. With today's methods, over two-thirds of couples who seek therapy to help their relationship report significant improvement.

While not every relationship problem can be solved through couples counseling, the chance of success can be improved if partners agree to see a counselor early before problems become overwhelming. If partners see a therapist at the early stages of an issue, commit to the therapy process, and follow the guidance of their therapist, they are likely to see at least some improvement in their relationship.

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How Can Online Therapy Help?

Online therapy is becoming increasingly popular, driven by a recent surge in the number of people accessing therapeutic services online. Couples therapy is no exception; many choose to attend couples therapy remotely. Visiting with a therapist online offers a solution to many of the barriers present when accessing therapy, such as traveling to an office or being restricted to nearby therapists only.

Therapists who provide online services use the same evidence-based techniques as traditional in-office therapists. The online couples therapy process is likely nearly identical to the procedures employed in an office setting. Some online therapy services also offer asynchronous communication, meaning couples can message their therapist outside of their normally scheduled sessions for advice or guidance. Although the couples counseling techniques are administered remotely by a therapist, evidence suggests they are just as effective as if provided in an office setting.

Takeaway

Evidence suggests that seeing a couples counselor when problems appear produces the best outcomes. Couples counselors help partners improve communication, increase intimacy, develop problem-solving skills, and develop future-focused skills that help prevent new problems from developing. The couples therapy process is non-judgmental and nonconfrontational. Partners work together to find solutions to current issues and understand each other, guided by the therapist, who acts as a neutral facilitator. Couples counseling is evidence-based and highly effective, with over 70% of couples experiencing improvement in their relationship following therapy.

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