Relationships can be hard. While social media seems to show how others are doing so well, the reality is that couples will go through their ups and downs.
It is not uncommon for couples to face conflict and unforeseen circumstances in their journey together.
Couples therapy is a great way for them to strengthen their relationship, develop skills and work through issues that they are facing.
Here’s all you need to know about couples therapy.
What is couples therapy?
Couples therapy is a type of psychotherapy where the therapist helps two people who are in a romantic relationship gain understanding and insight pertaining to their association.
It addresses relationship issues with the aim of resolving conflict and strengthening relationships via therapeutic interventions.
While techniques and practice may vary according to the therapist’s theoretical orientation, couples therapy generally has the following elements:
- There is focus on specific problems. For example, infidelity, sexual difficulties or jealousy.
- The therapist actively treats the relationship and couple together, rather than seeing individuals separately.
- Treatment is often solution-focused and change-oriented.
- Treatment objectives are clear from the get-go.
Sometimes referred to as couples counseling, couples therapy can be helpful for partners at any stage of their relationship, regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, faith and marital status. As such, it can also cover premarital counseling, marriage counseling and family therapy.
Couples therapy techniques
The following techniques and methods are often employed by therapists to help couples improve their relationships.
In reflective listening, couples are taught how to be active listeners to boost healthy communication skills.
Conflict resolution skills are also a big part of reflective listening.
One of the techniques couples will learn is to use ‘I’ statements, rather than ‘you’ statements for effective communication. For example, ‘I feel hurt when you don’t discuss important plans with me’, rather than “You always don’t discuss your plans with me”.
In narrative therapy, couples are encouraged to describe the issues they are facing in narrative form. They are then directed to rewrite their stories. This helps them to see different perspectives and that no single narrative can encapsulate the whole experience.
Narrative therapy can be quite effective for couples who feel they are the reason why the relationship is feeling, and because they are a ‘failure’, they ‘deserve’ what is happening.
Emotionally focused therapy
Emotionally focused therapy, or EFT aims to have couples identify negative relationship patterns that are hampering secure attachments and bonding, and causing feelings of disconnection.
As such, the therapist’s goal is to provide couples with techniques that will help couples understand and change these patterns.
The Gottman method is quite popular among complex therapists as it is specially designed to help couples manage conflict and deepen their understanding and empathy for each other.
This method aims to increase intimacy and affection, reduce conflicting verbal communication and remove the barriers that create stagnancy in a relationship.
Psychodynamic couples therapy
The psychodynamic couple’s therapist encourages partners to understand each other better by the exploration of underlying fears as well as hopes that motivate couples.
Imago relationship therapy
This method focuses on the connection between adult relationships and childhood experiences. The therapist works with the couple to understand childhood trauma which results in couples being more empathetic and understanding towards each other.
In this model, couples are encouraged to focus and work towards specific goals. Solution-focused therapy brings change by having clients construct solutions rather than dwelling on the issue they need to overcome.
Ellen Wachel approach
This approach encourages couples to find the positive aspects of the relationship, and focus on them. The Ellen Wachtel approach is strength-based and the therapist teaches couples self-reflection, as compared to blaming each other for the relationship woes.
Behavioral couples therapy (BCT)
Based on behavioral therapy principles, BCT aims to shape behavior by reinforcing positive behaviors and eliminating negative ones to promote satisfaction and stability in the relationship.
Cognitive behavioral couples therapy (CBCT)
Similar to how cognitive behavioral therapy would work, CBCT works by identifying and restructuring negative thought patterns to change and eliminate negative behavior.
Negative thought patterns are challenged and replaced with more positive, healthy thoughts, resulting in positive behavioral changes
Couples therapy exercises
Couples therapy exercises aim to improve intimacy, communication, and appreciation between you and your partner.
- Express appreciation daily in your conversations with your partner. Communication gratitude can help to strengthen your appreciation for your partner and vice versa.
- Write down your shared goals and desires. Put it together on a vision board as a tangible reminder that you are working on your relationship. You can even get crafty and have some fun creating your vision board!
- Go deeper in your conversations, rather than sticking to surface level communication. Simply talk to your partner and pay attention to each other.
- Apologize effectively when a hurt occurs. Acknowledge if you have hurt your partner and take responsibility by acknowledging the offense. Explain to your partner that you did not mean to hurt the other person and express your remorse. Make amends and talk to your partner to see what you can do to fix the damage.
- Identify your partner’s love language and fill up their ‘love tank’ in the language that they speak. The five love languages are:
- Words of affirmation
- Acts of service
- Receiving gifts
- Physical touch
- Quality time
- Make time for important conversations. Schedule time for tough conversations so that your partner is not caught off guard. Sometimes conflicts happen when we try to discuss things at the wrong time. Serious conversations have best results when you and your partner plan for it.
- Schedule time for each other. Life can get very busy, especially when you have children. Make time for each other, and schedule time to get intimate.
- Add a dash of romance into your busy day with the ‘6 second kiss’. 6 seconds is long enough for you to be passionate with your partner and distract you from your busy schedule.
- Write down three things that your partner can do every week and share your lists with your partner. Our need for love and affection are fulfilled in different ways and having these lists can help you to better understand your partner.
- Connect through music that reminds you and your partner of the special moments you’ve had together.
- Initiate some eye gazing with your partner to build a stronger connection. Research shows that eye contact can help to build trust, increase intimacy and can help people to recognize emotions.
- Cuddle up with your partner. Your body releases oxytocin and reduces cortisol when you’re cuddling, making you feel good!
Benefits of couples therapy
No matter what the situation you and your partner are in, couples therapy can be of great benefit. Here are some couples counseling perks:
- Learn to understand each other better by expressing feelings, fears, hopes, beliefs, values and priorities.
- Identify issues that are causing recurring conflicts and feelings of disconnection.
- Improve communication skills and find new ways to communicate effectively with your partner.
- Decrease distress and resolve conflict.
- Strengthen you and your partner’s attachment, bonding, friendship and intimacy.
- Address and eliminate dysfunctional beliefs and behaviors.
- Develop skills to resolve conflicts that may arise.
- Identify you and your partner’s needs and wants with regards to the relationship.
- Improve overall relationship quality and increase happiness.
- A safe space and a third-party mediator can help facilitate conversations and discuss difficult topics.
When to go for couples therapy?
Couples often start therapy in hopes to resolve issues that are causing them distress, mistrust or conflict in the relationship. Common reasons couples seek therapy include:
- The presence of betrayal. For example, infidelity, unfaithfulness or deceit.
- The need to enhance emotional and physical intimacy.
- To overcome a traumatic event.
- Managing a transition, such as becoming parents, empty nesters, moving to a new city or changing careers.
- Managing and resolving different views and opinions on parenting
- Managing substance use disorder and the recovery process for one, or both partners.
- Having a blended family.
- Wanting to learn how to have healthy conflicts and improve the relationship.
- Feeling lost and numb about the relationship.
- Feeling distant from your partner
- Going through loss and grief.
- Wanting to reignite the ‘spark’ in the relationship.
- Managing anger issues that cause conflict in the relationship.
- Working through infertility issues.
- Working through financial issues.
- Wanting to improve communication with your partner.
- Considering if you should break up, or divorce.
- Premarital counseling for a strong foundation before you tie the knot.
- Overcoming codependency.
Many couples wait until they are at crisis point before they seek help.
However, couples therapy can often be of benefit to healthy couples too.
Try not to wait until you’re slipping up or there’s a major stressor in the relationship. While the initial lovey-dovey feelings may bring you and your partner together, you will need certain skills to build a healthy, long-lasting relationship.
What to expect in couples therapy?
Couples therapy usually starts off with interview questions pertaining to the relationship. This may include cultural backgrounds, and values. If there is a crisis at hand, the therapist might use the first few sessions to work through the immediate issue.
The therapist will help the couple to identify issues, establish treatment goals and come up with a treatment plan. Many times, treatment involves getting the couple to be aware of and understand the relational dynamics central to the problem.
The therapist may also want to work on behavioral change and assign homework to the couple so that they can apply skills they learnt in therapy in their daily life. Because couples therapy is usually short term, these skills will help couples greatly when issues come up in the future.
Oftentimes, couples who attend therapy have a greater understanding of their relationship. The skills learnt during therapy will also help them to communicate effectively and work together as a team to tackle problems that may arise.
Is couples therapy effective?
Yes, couples therapy can be effective in helping couples strengthen their relationship.
A review of clinical evidence suggests that couples therapy can help increase relationship satisfaction, problem solving, communication, forgiveness as well as needs resolution.
Additionally, the American Association of Marriage and Family cited that of the couples that were surveyed, 97% acknowledged that couples therapy gave them the help they needed while 93% said that couples therapy equipped them with effective skills and tools to help deal with conflict in their relationship.
What is the success rate of couples counseling?
There hasn’t been a definitive way to measure the success rate of couples counseling. There are studies that demonstrate improvement in relationships, while other research shows that there are both couples who continue to maintain their relationship and those who return to negative patterns.
As such, the success of couples therapy really depends on those who are participating in it and how much they desire to learn and work towards a strong and healthy relationship.
Besides this, the definition of success in couples therapy in itself is rather tricky. While some may define success as staying together, not all couples should continue in their relationship. Sometimes success means that the couple realizes that it is time to go their separate ways.
If you’re struggling in your relationship, why not give couples therapy a try. Strong relationships and marriages take work and having a third party to guide you and your partner may be just the thing you need.
If you’re a therapist, A Space Between offers numerous rooms of different sizes in which you can conduct therapy sessions.
No matter what you’re facing, perhaps our website can offer up some solace or comfort. Know that you’re not alone, and that there is help available. This can be hard to keep in mind if you haven’t quite found the right support system. While it’s definitely not easy to find the right fit—whether you’re looking for a support group or a mental health provider—with diligence, it’s totally possible.
If you are a therapist, life coach or counsellor looking to join our growing community, head over to book a tour once you have learnt about the plans we offer. At A Space Between, there is a ready league of providers you can network with. With professionals from various backgrounds and therapy practices, there are bound to be the ones you can connect with. Private practice does not have to be lonely.