Marital or couples therapy is offered to support people in relationship who are seeking improved intimacy and understanding, and to those who feel “stuck” in repetitive, entrenched conflicts and may be considering separation or divorce. In marital or couples therapy, the relationship is the focus, although each partner should also expect to focus on increasing their individual self-awareness.
When Is Marital/Couples Therapy Recommended?
Many couples seek therapy in order to strengthen or enrich an already strong relationship. Others seek therapy for power struggles, communication problems, sexual dissatisfaction and/or infidelity. Though therapy is recommended as soon as significant conflict arises in a relationship, studies show that on average, partners will not seek therapy until they have been unhappy for six years. The more time passes, however, the more resentment builds and the more difficult it may be to repair the relationship. In some cases, a couple that has already decided to separate or divorce may pursue therapy in order to end the relationship amicably and respectfully.
Effective therapy will likely address many aspects of the relationship, although communication patterns tend to be the primary focus of marital or couples therapy. When partners repeatedly employ conflict avoidance or engage in heated power struggles, communication problems can build. Leading researchers in the field have identified that the lack of adequate repair following an argument is the most significant contributor to relationship unhappiness. At Arbor Psychology Group our therapists know that one of the first steps in improving a relationship is to teach each person how to regulate their emotions (using principals of Emotionally-Focused Therapy), stay calm and use healthy communication skills to resolve their problems.
Expectations and Goals
Successful therapy depends on each partner’s motivation and dedication to the therapeutic process. With commitment to the process, couples can expect to become better listeners and communicators, and to find new ways to support and appreciate one another. The couple and their therapist will collaboratively establish goals. In order to achieve these objectives, each partner must be prepared to acknowledge and understand his/her role in the relationship. It is not uncommon for conflict to arise within therapy sessions, but our therapists will remain neutral and avoid taking sides.
Some relationship counselors offer supplemental individual sessions to each partner as a matter of course and some may offer individual sessions upon request.
Frequency and Duration
Marital or couples therapy is often held once per week, but this may vary depending on your therapy goals and whether you are also attending individual sessions. Counseling is often short-term, though healing takes time and, ultimately, the therapy will proceed for as long as the couple is committed to seeing it through or until resolution is reached.
Types of Marital/Couples Therapy
There are a multitude of different approaches to relationship counseling. For example, Imago Therapy explores how we unconsciously choose partners who reflect back the very things that we must work on ourselves. Emotionally-Focused Therapy encourages partners to examine how communication styles or attachment experiences present themselves in interactions. In Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), individuals learn to heal trauma and find balance by identifying the different parts of themselves, acknowledging that some parts may be overactive or ignored and taking responsibility for their reactions and emotions. This allows partners to better understand the patterns that play out in their relationship and to better understand one another.