Relationships are hard work. They can also be incredibly life giving – the place where we feel we can truly be ourselves and be accepted. When couples that I work with begin seeing their efforts pay off, they often comment that they only wish they’d started sooner. The reality is couples wait on average 6 years before seeking couple’s counseling for relational issues. Despite recent efforts to break the stigma behind counseling, this still exists and seems to be magnified for couples. “We aren’t like those people”, “we don’t need that kind of help” are beliefs we hold that prevent us from seeking couple’s counseling. Some couples simply believe their struggles are too small or insignificant for therapy. If we’re being honest, sometimes we don’t see ourselves as the problem, so counseling seems like a waste of time. Newsflash, every relationship requires two people so inevitably, you are involved.
So how do you know it’s a good time to seek help?
Here are 5 Signs it’s time to invest in couple’s counseling:
1. Unhealthy Communication Patterns
It’s easy for us to get comfortable in patterns of communication. In addition, many of us weren’t provided the tools or examples to know how to best communicate with others. As a result, we’re either aggressive, passive or passive-aggressive in our approach. The number one reason people come to my couples therapy sessions is for communication issues. The goal is to help people communicate in an assertive way, where both parties can share their thoughts and feelings, while leaving space to listen to the other side. A good couple’s therapist will help provide a safe space for both individuals to share and feel confident that when communication goes wrong, there are ways to repair.
2. The Relationship Is In Transition
Moving in together, getting married, having a baby, grief and loss – these are all transitions that can be seen either as stressors or opportunities for growth. The transitions can often magnify issues that were already under the surface. At the same time, when the relationship is moving to another level, it can be a good time to head to counseling to assess what the current patterns are, and to create a cope-ahead plan for potential issues that may arise. This can provide confidence to face issues head on and with the goal to resolve them. Transitions don’t need to break a relationship, they can be a beautiful opportunity to grow deeper and learn more about each other.
3. Trust Has Been Broken
Infidelity, addiction, holding grudges, picking fights – all of these factors can contribute to trust being broken. These issues can be very damaging for a relationship, however, it is possible to move towards repair and rebuild trust. This will take both time and effort on both sides. With the help of a couple’s counselor, accountability can be taken and steps can be made to move forward in a way where the past no longer has power over your relationship. Sometimes it is difficult to see this on your own and bringing in a third party counselor can be beneficial. Couple’s counselors draw on strengths the relationship holds which can be difficult to see when trust has been broken. By using this strengths-based approach, couple’s often report they feel confident to feel hopeful, rebuild trust, and move forward in the relationship.
One of the most common reasons people seek therapy is the presence of conflict. Many people see conflict as a negative thing and avoid it at all cost. Others see it as a tool used to win and get what they want from someone or out of the relationship. There is an alternative. Conflict can be seen as an opportunity for relational growth through the use of resolve. If we move through conflict in a way where both people feel heard and validated, it can be an incredible tool through which we learn more about the values and passions of one another. In couple’s counseling, you can learn tools and strategies to change the patterns of engaging in conflict and begin to move towards productivity.
5. Feeling Unloved and Unsupported
One partner seeks intimacy, the other feels they are lacking connection and can’t provide that intimacy. This is a common cycle for people who initially come to therapy. Partners often feel like intimacy and connection are lacking – resulting in feeling unloved and unsupported. Relationships become comfortable, which can be a gift or can mean lack of effort. You may even forget what you fell in love with in the first place. Feelings of defeat day after day can be incredibly overwhelming. However, it doesn’t need to stay this way. Only 37% of divorced partners worked with a therapist before signing the divorce papers. Seeking therapy to help initiate the move towards intimacy and connection is a good way to stop that cycle and move towards both people having their needs met.
Is Couples Counselling Costly?
This is a great question many people are asking in the financial climate of today. Many people avoid couple’s counseling because it can be expensive. Please don’t let this be a reason you avoid reaching out for help. A good starting place is to explore the health benefits both you and your spouse have. If both parties have coverage, we can maximize the usage and work with the Care Team to create a care plan with this coverage in mind. For example, if coverage is lacking, we may choose to do 1.5hr sessions and have them less frequently.
For those without extended health benefits, this can be a tough spot to be in if you’re spending out of pocket for sessions. Still, I would encourage you if you fit into any categories above, please reach out. Working with your counselor and care team is the best way to sort through this reservation. There are times where a counselor can do a few brief sessions to provide you with the appropriate skills needed to make changes.
Ultimately, couple’s counseling is an investment. The same way you invest in RRSPs or life insurance, counseling is an investment in your relationship long term. The alternative is often unhappy, dissatisfied relationships or in some cases ending the relationship altogether. It may mean reassessing finances and making sacrifices elsewhere (if you skip a $5 coffee every day you’ll save $150 per month!)
What Happens at Couples Therapy?
Each practitioner will have slightly different ways of structuring their sessions. This is why it’s important to sign up for a free consultation to make sure you find the right fit for you and your partner.
Typically there will be an initial consultation with both partners to figure out what the presenting issues are and if the practitioner is a good fit. In the first therapy session we will begin to create goals to actively work on during and after counseling. Following the initial session, it is common for the practitioner to have an individual session with each person. Here you may go over things like family of origin, past relationship patterns, mental health concerns, affairs and commitment level. Once the initial sessions have taken place, the skill-building begins with both partners present. These sessions usually start with an update. After this examples from between sessions may be used to work on skills and towards the mutually agreed upon goals.
A question I’m often asked is how often should sessions take place? The answer to this is it depends on the couple, the coverage, and the presenting issues! Typically, it is helpful to have many sessions close together at the beginning of therapy. Once the couple feels more comfortable implementing the skills, the sessions will likely become more spread out and move towards refresher sessions – used to refine the skills to fit the specific and often changing needs of the couple.