Types Of Couple Counseling Techniques

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson
Updated November 30, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

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? Healing from difficulties with trust? Working through concerns related to family life and stress? In need of 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 several couples’ counseling techniques you may want to try.

Couples’ Counseling Techniques

Because there are several kinds of relationship therapists, 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.

Getty
Need Help Deciding Which Type Of Counseling Is Right For You?

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are some common techniques and activities.

Imago Relationship Therapy

Imago relationship therapy (IRT) is one of the couples therapy approaches that focus on counseling that helps you and your partner heal and grow together. “Imago” is Latin for image and refers to the unconscious image of relationships. The main goal in this method is to understand each other on a more personal and romantic level. 

This approach 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. For married couples, imago marriage counseling might help your relationship flourish further.

*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.

Focusing On the Positive: A Building Block For One Approach

Suppose you sense that negative interactions are overriding the positive ones in your relationship. In that case, a simple thing you can do that may make a significant difference is focus on the positive instead of the negative. That does not mean ignoring problems that are present or shutting out negative emotions. 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 increasing your relationship strengths. This is recommended by Dr. John Gottman, a leading researcher on relationships, marriage, and divorce.

Getty/MoMo Productions

The Gottman Method

A well-known relationship therapy technique, the Gottman Method, was developed by Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist who has his relationship counseling practice. Through over 40 years of research, Dr. Gottman and his wife, Dr. Julie Gottman, determined what it takes for a relationship to last and be healthy. 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
  • 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
  • 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. And it has three main goals. They include:

  • Repositioning your standing during disagreements to improve interactions
  • Developing 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.
Getty/Maskot
Need Help Deciding Which Type Of Counseling Is Right For You?

Narrative Therapy

The narrative therapy method is a way to separate you from your problems to rely on your skills to help control and minimize issues. 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 lives.
  • 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 can help 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. This is where couple therapy techniques may benefit you the most.

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 believe they can talk openly with you.

Relationship Growth Worksheet

This questionnaire asks you each question to help you 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 can be an enlightening practice to help you understand how each other sees and thinks about 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 consider books written by professionals who have worked with couples in a counseling or coaching setting. If you choose 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 Couples’ Counseling

Traditional counseling in a therapist’s office is one of the most popular options for seeking relationship help. You may get more from face-to-face sessions with a couples’ counselor 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 are 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 couples’ counseling is online relationship counseling. This is much the same as traditional counseling, except that you get the added convenience of having a wider range of counselors from whom to choose 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 with some online therapy plans.

Research indicates that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for a variety of conditions and concerns, including aiding relationships. A 2022 study on relationship counseling held via video conferencing found that therapeutic alliance (the degree of trust and comfort between client and therapist) did not differ between online and in-person therapy. Additionally, the study “indicated improvements in relationship satisfaction, mental health, and all other outcome scores over time” that were comparable to those of couples who received in-person therapy.

Takeaway

Remember that, although you can learn a lot about various therapy modalities online, you don’t have to know exactly what approach will be most effective for you. If you connect with a therapist 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,  or recommend another provider who may be a better fit for your needs and preferences.

If you decide to use an online therapy platform like Regain, you’ll start by completing 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. 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 when you’re ready.

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns

This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.