What to Expect from Couples Therapy

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Most long-term relationships will face a few bumps in the road. If you’re going through a rough patch with your loved one, couples therapy may be a solution to help you both get through it.

Couples therapy can include various techniques, but all of them aim to help you better understand your partner, communicate effectively, and resolve conflict. Therapy sessions can be completed online or in person, and the number of sessions depends on the needs of each couple.

Let’s dive deeper into the basics of couples therapy and what you should expect.

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The Basics of Couples Therapy

Couples therapy is a form of psychotherapy where an intimate couple talks with a therapist to resolve relationship issues. Together they aim to understand one another better, work through challenges, and become stronger and more unified.

This article will cover the basics of couples therapy and more, including:

  • The goals of couples therapy
  • Different types of couples therapies such as marriage counseling, premarital counseling, and family therapy
  • The techniques and therapeutic processes used in marriage counseling
  • What to expect from a therapy session
  • How to choose a marriage counselor or therapist  

The Goals of Couples Therapy

Most couples seek relationship counseling when facing problems and want to resolve them. That can be achieved with an open mind, honesty, and other facets of the relationship.

Achieve Better Communication

Therapy gives couples a safe environment to talk as a trained mediator helps keep the peace. This will allow partners to say things they couldn’t before because they didn’t know how to articulate their feelings or were scared of judgment. Open dialogue with a third party can help broaden perspectives and improve communication.

Increase Trust

With better communication comes increased trust, and relationships are nothing without it.

Once each partner understands the other’s perspective better, they can put themselves in each other’s shoes and see the world through another set of eyes, leading to trust. Going through therapy together and working towards a common goal as a team will increase this trust.

Enhance Intimacy

A better understanding of your partner and working together can lead you to see your partner in a new light. This can reignite old flames and lead to deeper intimacy, both physically and emotionally.

Work through Issues

A trained therapist can help sort through mental health issues, even getting to the root of a problem that stems from childhood. Most relationship issues are more profound than they seem, and a trained therapist can help implement new strategies to resolve these problems.

Determine the Viability of the Relationship

Some couples attend therapy to see if the relationship is worth continuing. One of the first things a therapist will ask couples to do is write down their goals.

Most couples that aim to improve the relationship and are willing to put in the work see success. Sometimes, however, the goal is to determine the relationship’s viability. This can be a hard pill to swallow, but sometimes therapy can be used to determine if the relationship is better off ending than continuing.

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Types of Couples Therapy

There are three types of couples therapy; one may be better suited for you than others. Let’s dive into marriage counseling, premarital counseling, and family therapy.

Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling can be synonymous with couples therapy, couples counseling, or relationship counseling. You don’t necessarily have to be married, but this type of couples counseling is for two partners in an intimate romantic relationship. It involves the couple working with a licensed therapist that can provide mental health services focused on the couple’s particular dynamic.

Marriage counseling can help with various relationship issues, including infidelity, divorce, substance abuse, cultural clashes, finances, sexual difficulties, infertility, physical or mental conditions, conflicts about child rearing, and communication issues.

Premarital Counseling

Premarital counseling is couples counseling for those who are planning to get married. This type of counseling works with a licensed therapist or religious counselor who can discuss marriage realities with the couple.

This type of counseling is usually preventative and brings up subjects that could lead to problems in the future that maybe the couple hasn’t discussed, such as finances, sex, and child-rearing. It can also ascertain relationship goals and lead to the couple better understanding each other and having heightened communication.

Family Therapy

Family therapy can help improve relationships with your partner, children, or other family members through counseling with a psychologist, licensed therapist, or clinical social worker. This therapy can be helpful for any complicated family situation that causes conflict, anger, stress, or grief.

Family therapy can include the entire family or the willing participants to learn coping skills, help increase understanding between the family, and ultimately, bring them closer together. Issues that can be addressed include marital or financial problems, family conflict, or the impact of mental illness or substance abuse on the family.

Techniques Used in Marriage Counseling

Marriage counselors use various techniques to resolve issues based on the couples’ needs. You may see the following techniques in a couples counseling session with your partner.

Reflective Listening

Effective communication is key to any healthy relationship. The reflective listening technique teaches productive communication and conflict resolution skills by allowing the couple to take turns being active listeners.

For example, couples learn to use “I” instead of “you” phrases. Instead of saying, “You are wrong for doing this,” you can say, “I feel hurt when you do this.”

Emotionally Focused Therapy

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Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) for couples counseling improves bonding and attachment in adult relationships. The therapist helps identify dysfunctional patterns that lead to conflict and allows the couple to reframe these behaviors to understand each other better.

Partners share emotions, create a safe space between them, and learn new communication strategies. This method is proven to increase marital satisfaction long term.

Narrative Therapy

This technique involves couples describing their issues in a narrative form and then rewriting their stories to allow them to see no single story can encapsulate the totality of their relationship. If both partners want to improve the relationship and feel they are at fault, this is an excellent technique.

Narrative therapy is proven to increase cooperation among couples, improve their sexual relationship, and decrease conflict over time.

Gottman Method

This is a popular technique among couples therapists, primarily taught at the Gottman Institute, where this method originates. This method allows couples to deepen their understanding of each other, manage conflict, and help with marital adjustment and physical intimacy during counseling.

Imago Relationship Therapy

This technique focuses on childhood experiences such as childhood trauma to explore how this impacts adult relationships. Its aim is for the couple to be more empathetic to one another and heighten understanding.

Solution-Focused Therapy

Solution-focused therapy is for couples working toward one specific goal, dealing with one particular issue, or experiencing burnout. This practice works to construct solutions rather than focus on problems.

What to Expect from a Therapy Session

If you’ve never been to therapy, you may have many negative scenarios in your head. While attending therapy can be hard work, the benefits far outweigh the effort.

You can attend therapy online or in person. Let the following steps ease your mind for your first session.

The First Session

In the first therapy session, both partners will meet with the therapist and discuss the main reason for seeking therapy. Some reasons may include conflict, unhealthy communication, or intimacy issues.

The therapist will cover their methods and ethics and outline how future sessions will go. Most sessions involve both partners, but a few may be split into individual sessions.

Getting to Know You

In the first few sessions, the therapist will work on getting to know you and your individual history. This may feel like an interview and go back to childhood, but the therapist must understand the whole story.

The therapist could ask how you met, about your early marriage years, intimate details, about your family, and other areas of your personal lives.

Goal Setting

Setting goals is an integral part of the initial session. If you are not sure what you want out of therapy, the therapist can help you, and you can change your goals throughout the sessions.

Goals could be that you want your partner to show more affection or that you want to learn how to forgive your partner after an affair.


Your therapist may give you homework assignments to complete between sessions. An example could be learning to communicate with “I” instead of “you” or creating an activity list of fun, new activities for you and your partner to do together.

How to Choose a Marriage Counselor or Therapist

Choosing a counselor, therapist, psychologist, or social worker is a personal decision that should leave you feeling comfortable. Take these steps into consideration when finding the right couples therapy for you.

1.    Consider Your Goals and Values

Counselors specialize in different things, so determining your goals and values will help you select the best help. Some therapists specialize in marital therapy, and others are family therapists. If you prefer a counselor who shares your religion, you can find a trusted counselor at your place of worship.

You can also find therapists based on technique. For example, if you have a specific relationship problem, you may want to try solution-based therapy and search for a therapist trained in this method.

2. Consider Recommendations from Those You Trust

If you have friends or family that have found success with a therapist, that could be an excellent place to start. You could also seek advice from a trusted health care provider.

3. Consult Your Insurance

Not all insurances will cover therapy. Consulting your insurance to see which therapists are offered in your network will give you a starting list of possible options. You could also decide to seek an out-of-network provider and pay out of pocket.

4. Investigate Local Options

You may be able to find free or cheap alternatives or organizations in your area by searching online, asking friends or health care providers, or searching on social media.

You can also search for couples therapists in your city or state on online directories through these organizations:

These organizations ensure the therapist is properly licensed. In general, look for professional titles such as licensed professional counselor (LPC), licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFF), or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

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How Many Therapy Sessions Should You Have?

The number of sessions will depend on how severe the conflict is and how much effort the couple is willing to put forth. It could take years, weeks, or even a few days for some couples. Some therapists offer individual sessions to couples who want help working through one specific conversation.

For most couples, at least a few sessions are needed for the therapist to know and understand the couple fully, and best help them. It also usually takes a few sessions for the couple to become comfortable enough to get to the actual “work” and see success.

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What If My Partner Doesn’t Want to Attend Therapy?

In relationship therapy, some people are very private or feel they will be criticized or blamed. If this is your partner, try to empathize and understand where they are coming from. Talk to them respectfully and frame counseling in a positive, collaborative light.

Assure them it isn’t about venting or blaming but working together to improve. It may also help to take responsibility for your contribution to any problems and reframe the conversation to, “I think I need someone to teach me how to be a better partner to you. Will you come with me to a relationship coach?”

You can also start with self-help books to learn tools and exercises and open the door to therapy in the future. Some books to try are Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love and Love Sense by Sue Johnson, PH.D. Also consider Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, PH.D. and The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman.

You can also try therapeutic exercises outside of the therapy room. Plan a weekly check-in meeting with your partner to share feelings or try fun, new activities together, such as dancing or taking a cooking class.

There is also an appreciation exercise where you tell your partner qualities you appreciate about them every night before bed and vice versa, such as “I am grateful for the dinner date we went on” or “I am grateful you held my hand on our afternoon walk.”

These exercises may ease your partner into therapy, but if not, you can always go to individual therapy first to learn tools to help your relationship.

Final Thoughts

If you are reading this article, that may mean you are experiencing relationship woes. Couples therapy may be right for you if you and your partner are open to seeking help and improving your relationship. Speaking with a licensed professional through therapy sessions can help resolve conflict, strengthen your bond and communication skills, and reignite lost love.

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