Types Of Couple Counseling Techniques
By: Patricia Oelze
Updated October 26, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC
Have you ever felt like your relationship needed a bit of guidance, but you were not exactly sure where to turn for help? What would be the best way to get your partnership back on track? Are you having trouble getting along or cannot seem to communicate effectively with your partner? Looking for help sharing more affection in the partnership? Healing from difficulties with trust? Working through concerns related to family life and stress? Premarital support? Something else?
Finding a therapist might seem like an overwhelming process, but it doesn't have to be. Instead of scouring the internet and wasting time on information overload, read this quick summary of a couple of counseling techniques you may want to try.
Couple Counseling Techniques
The techniques listed here focus on the broad categories of relationship counseling options available to you. However, they are not mutually exclusive, and it's common for professionals to use a blended approach. Although you don't necessarily need to know what techniques, approaches, or supplemental therapeutic activities you want to try, getting an idea of what couples counseling can look like or entail may put you at ease.
While this is by no means an extensive list, here are some common techniques and activities.
Imago Relationship Therapy
Imago relationship therapy (IRT) is a couple's therapy approach that focuses on counseling that helps you and your partner heal and grows together. Imago is Latin for image and refers to the unconscious image of relationships. The main goal in this type of method is to understand each other on a more personal and romantic level. IRT encourages partners to open up and share their pasts, including traumatic experiences, childhood problems, past abuse* or neglect, and any other childhood issues that have the potential to impact your adult relationships.
This type of method suggests that your early relationships shape you and teach you how to manage future relationships. Our early lives reflect how we treat our future partners. For instance, if you were praised and given a lot of love and attention from your parents as a child, you will likely believe that you should be attentive and loving to your partner and anyone else you love. However, suppose you grew up in a tumultuous household with abuse and neglect. In that case, you might have carried some of your family's behaviors over into your relationship, or it could impact how you feel in relationships.
IRT suggests that those feelings and relationships you experienced as a child are how you see your future relationships. If you have had a troubled childhood, you might benefit from counseling to improve your relationship or personal mental health. With this form of therapy, you and your partner can increase empathy and understanding, move away from maladaptive behavior or blame, work together in a more personally informed way, and deepen your bond.
*Please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) if you or someone you know is experiencing abuse. You can also visit their website to chat online, find resources, and more: https://www.thehotline.org/.
Focusing On the Positive: A Building Block For One Approach
Suppose you feel like negative interactions are overriding the positive ones in your relationship. In that case, a simple thing you can do that makes a huge difference is focus on the positive instead of the negative. That does not mean ignoring that problems are present. Any problems can and should be addressed, but by focusing on the positive, you can increase affection and work together with the positives in mind.
Focusing on the positives is a great practice to include with any of the other techniques listed here. Remember that the only person's behavior you can control is your own. So, take those steps to make your relationship better and allow your partner to reciprocate. Connect with your partner by strengthening your relationship strengths. This is recommended by Dr. John Gottman, a leading researcher on relationships, marriage, and divorce.
A well-known relationship therapy technique, the Gottman Method, was developed by Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist who has his relationship counseling practice. Over 40 years of research, Dr. Gottman and his wife, Julie, determined what it takes for a relationship to last a long time. They found that there are nine main components to build and retain a healthy and successful relationship.
The Gottman's named it the "Sound Relationship House." It helps individuals learn how to get rid of their defensiveness and work together to understand each other better. The nine components of the Gottman Method include:
- Building love maps is about learning your partner's hopes, joys, stresses, worries, and history.
- Sharing fondness and admiration by expressing appreciation and respect.
- Turning toward instead of turning away by responding to each other.
- Positivity in problem-solving is essential to repair relationships successfully.
- Managing conflict is about managing disagreements rather than trying to fix them all because all relationships have conflict.
- Make your dreams come true by talking openly and honestly with each other about your wishes, hopes, and aspirations.
- Creating shared meanings so you are both on the same page, so to speak, about visions, communication, and values.
- Building trust is the only way to have a healthy relationship.
- Committing yourselves to each other means believing that your relationship is going to last forever.
Emotionally Focused Therapy
Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) was developed in the 1980s by a Canadian psychologist named Dr. Susan Johnson. In 1998, she and her partners founded the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, where they use EFT daily. It is now used in training centers, clinics, and private practices all over the world. And it has three main goals. They include:
- They are repositioning your standing during disagreements to improve interactions.
- Develop a stronger bond between you and your partner.
- Recognizing and expanding on emotional responses.
There are different steps of EFT, which include:
Step One: De-escalating the Cycle
- Identifying the main issues of concern
- Understanding how negativity increases conflict
- Having the therapist assist in identifying fears and negative emotions.
- Reframing the key issues and each person's needs.
Step Two: Changing Patterns
- Voicing each other's needs and emotions.
- Being coached in how to accept and show compassion for each other's needs and emotions.
- Learning how to express needs and emotions without conflict.
Step Three: Consolidating and Integrating
- Being taught how to use new communication skills to talk about old issues and build new solutions.
- Learning how to use these skills in real life outside of therapy permanently.
The narrative therapy method is a way to separate you from your problems to rely on your skills to help control and minimize them. Developed by Dr. David Epston and Dr. Michael White, narrative therapy believes that telling your story is a way to change things for the better. Some of the processes include:
- Teaching individuals how to make room for new stages in their life.
- Framing your problems in a larger and more sociocultural context.
- Teaching people how to identify and objectify their problems.
What narrative therapy does not do is try to change the person. Instead, it focuses on changing the effects of the problems. The goal is to make more space between you and your problems to see them in a different light. By externalizing your problems, you can see them more objectively.
Couple Therapy Worksheets
What is a couple's therapy worksheet? They are questionnaires that make you and your partner look deep inside yourselves. This helps you understand each other better, which helps you learn to work through your problems more successfully.
The GIVE worksheet focuses on four relationship-building strengths, which include:
- Gentle: How can you be gentler and kinder to your partner?
- Interest: Showing that you are interested in what your partner is saying and what they care about is important to your relationship.
- Validate: Each partner should feel validated in a relationship, so listening and understanding help build a stronger partnership.
- Easy: Having an easygoing manner helps your partner see you as approachable so they feel they can talk openly with you.
Relationship Growth Worksheet
This questionnaire asks you each question about others to find out more about each other. For example, some of the questions include what your partner's favorite show was as a child, what your partner's favorite thing about you is, and what your partner's goals for the future include.
Point Of View Worksheet
Learning about each other's points of view is an enlightening practice to help you understand how each other sees things. For example, you may both read the same short story and see them in completely different ways. In a story about a boy and his dog who get separated because the dog runs away, one person may see the boy as irresponsible for not having a leash on the dog. At the same time, the other may consider the dog bad for not listening to the boy. Then others are just sad for the boy, while some are sad for the dog. People see things differently, and it is important to know how your partner sees things.
Relationship Counseling Books
Many books are available to help you with DIY relationship improvement. When you're looking for a book to help you with your relationship, it's a good idea to look at books written by professionals who have worked with couples in a counseling or coaching setting. If you go with an author who does not have counseling certifications, do some research to ensure credibility in offering relationship advice. Books written by couples who have been together for many years are also a good source of guidance, especially when both partners work together on the content.
Face-To-Face Couple Counseling
Traditional counseling in a therapist's office is one of the most popular options for seeking relationship help. Unfortunately, it's usually put off until the relationship is in dire circumstances. And that makes it much more difficult for the counseling sessions to get your relationship to a good place before one of you gives up. You will get more from face-to-face sessions with a couple of counselors if you and your partner notice negative patterns before they eat away at the entire relationship. If you're not ready for therapy or counseling or on a waiting list, you can dip your toes into the water and start working on your relationship using a worksheet, book, or other methods. While it's not a replacement for therapy, it's great to start working on your partnership together in the ways you can right now.
Online Relationship Counseling
A terrific alternative to in-office couple counseling is an online relationship or couple's counseling. This is pretty much the same as traditional counseling, except that you get the added convenience of having a wider range of counselors to choose from without the deterrent of a long commute to their office. You can engage in counseling sessions with your partner and the counselor from any location that is convenient for you. Also, you will not need to make an appointment, and you can communicate with your counselor anytime you want, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with some online therapy plans.
No two couples are alike, and different approaches or ways to access therapy will work for different couples. The same is true in individual therapy. Remember that, although you can learn a lot about various modalities online, you don't have to know exactly what approach you're looking for. If you connect with a therapist or counselor and discuss why you're pursuing counseling, they'll be able to tell you if they can help. If not, they will generally be able to refer you out or recommend another provider who can.
If you decide to use an online therapy platform like ReGain, you'll start by taking a quick questionnaire that'll help you match with a counselor or therapist. If you don't like the first therapist or counselor you see, you will be able to switch or change providers at any point in time. ReGain makes it fast and easy to start working with a licensed professional. The platform offers both individual counseling and couples counseling, so whether you're looking for a provider for yourself or yourself and a partner, you can find it here.
Whether you start the counseling process in person or online, you deserve to have the support of a provider who meets your needs. Take the leap and sign up or start your search today.
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