Relationship Counseling Guide

Relationship counseling helps couples communicate their issues and resolve relationship problems. Learn more about finding a relationship counselor.

Relationship counseling, also known as couples therapy, provides a safe space where you and your partner can work through your relationship issues with a trained professional. Some therapists specialize in different types of relationships, with marriage counselors being the most common. In recent years, more therapists have specialized in LGBT relationships. While relationship counseling is primarily focused on couples, there are also therapists who offer family treatment. Premarital counseling is also available for couples who are having trouble taking the next step in their relationship.

A common misconception regarding relationship counselors is they only help with divorce issues. While many couples attend relationship counseling to try and prevent divorce, this is not the only option. In fact, many relationship counselors stress that waiting until you are in danger of divorce makes it much harder to address your relationship issues. The moment you and your partner start to experience significant stress, consider making an appointment. Relationship counselors are available for both in-person and online sessions.

Warning Signs

Deciding when to see a relationship counselor is a difficult decision. Even the most perfect couple fights from time to time or goes through rough patches. There are several warning signs to keep an eye on which may indicate you need a relationship counselor.

The first is you or your partner being indifferent to one another. This means you do not care when the other person is upset, or find yourselves not wanting to spend time with one another. Some couples start to drift apart, barely seeing one another or talking about their days. This can also lead to not knowing where your partner is during the day.

Another major warning sign is when all your communication is negative. This does not always mean fighting. In some cases, negative communication occurs when one partner tries to undermine the other. For example, if you try to tell your partner about a promotion you received at work, your partner may dismiss the accomplishment and instead focus on something negative, like how you didn’t get a big enough raise or how difficult it will be to take care of the house due to your new hours.

Making the Most of Relationship Counseling

Relationship counselors do not have the ability to effortlessly fix your relationship. In order for counseling to work, both you and your partner must be committed to the treatment. You and your partner must be open and honest with each other during therapy. Many patients are tempted to lie because they do not want to admit to doing something wrong or making a mistake.

Your counselor is not trying to judge you or make you feel bad for something you did by asking difficult questions. It is difficult, but you must prepare for discomfort during your counseling. Your counselor needs to ask you difficult questions, and you must look deep inside of yourself when you answer them. It may seem hard, but accepting your faults is the only way to work through them. Similarly, you must also be prepared to hear difficult answers from your partner.

Another important part of relationship counseling is being able to listen. This applies to both your counselor and partner. It is easy to feel defensive when your partner is describing something, but even if you feel it is not true, you cannot interrupt your partner and must let them express themselves. In turn, your partner will listen to you when you explain your side.

Resolving Communication Issues

One of the most common reasons couples go to therapy is communication issues. Even if there are greater problems in your relationship, it is likely poor communication contributes to these issues. An important part of therapy is learning how to effectively communicate with each other. In many relationships, one or both partners are unable to convey how they are feeling. This can either lead to hiding issues or fighting instead of talking.

Relationship counselors use a variety of exercises with you and your partner so you can communicate with one another. Many couples have an easier time talking with a counselor because he or she can act as a mediator, keeping the conversation on track and interrupting when it starts to devolve into a fight. Your counselor also has a clear head about the conversation, allowing him or her to pick up on cues and really listen to what is being said.

Emotionally Focused Therapy

Another common issue couples face is not understanding how the other person feels. Emotionally focused therapy focuses on you and your partner working together to explain how they really feel about an issue. Many couples get into fight over what first appears to be a minor issue, such as one partner showing up late for dinner or forgetting to pick an item up from the store. In reality, the fights are over an emotional issue which one partner is having trouble expressing.

Emotionally focused therapy explores the root behind issues and lets each partner explain the deeper meaning behind the fight. For example, your partner may not be upset that you forgot to pick something up, but because he or she feels you have been neglecting his or her feelings and do not prioritize how he or she feels.

Common Questions During Therapy

Relationship counseling is a unique experience, since each couple has different issues. However, there are a few common questions you can expect, especially during your first few sessions. These questions are used to get a baseline for what is going on in your relationship and help inform your counselor what areas are important to focus on.

It may seem basic, but one of the most effective questions is what problems are you experiencing. Many couples have a difficult time expressing what is truly bothering them. This question is designed to cut to the heart of the matter.

Other questions focus on the nature of the relationship. This can include whether you and your partner trust each other or if you have been lying to one another. This may lead to questions about your future together, such as whether you see yourself getting married or having children with your partner.

Finding a Relationship Counselor

Finding a relationship counselor can be difficult. You want to pick someone both you and your partner are comfortable with. If you are comfortable talking to your friends or family, you can ask them for recommendations.

If this is not an option, there are several online resources available. A great way to find a therapist is to search through the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT). This directory not only shows what therapists are available in your area, but guarantees you find someone with the proper credentials. The Gottman Institute also has a list of both in-person and online counselors in your state. Another option is to search through the National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists. Despite the name, these therapists handle all couples, not just married ones.