“Is relationship counselling just a new trend or can it really help me?” a friend of mine asked me recently.
When she got married 10 years back both she and her husband had discussed that they would prefer to be childfree. But suddenly her husband changed his mind. He was keen to adopt while she felt she was not ready for adoption. As a result they started drifting apart in the marriage. She feared that the marriage could ultimately end unless they both made an effort to salvage it.
That’s when I told her about famous American psychologist John Gottman. He has been researching for 40 years on 3000 couples and has saved hundreds of marriages. Gottman believes that couples are often too late in opting for relationship counselling.
They do so only when the worst has hit the relationship, but if they had opted a little earlier then maybe more marriages could have been saved.
I told my friend relationship counselling is not a fad. It not only helps couples, family counselling has been helping parents to understand their children better as well. In fact, pre-marital counselling is helping people to navigate the complicated institution of marriage better.
“You must go for relationship counselling before it is too late,” I told my friend.
What Is Relationship Counselling?
To put it very simply relationship counselling helps you understand what you are doing wrong in the relationship. It helps you reconnect and fix relationship issues.
If you have health problems you go to a doctor, if you have mental issues you take the help of a psychologist. But if your relationship has turned unhealthy and there are issues ailing it for years, you keep grappling with it without asking for any help.
Why? Because most of the time you don’t release that there is a problem in the first place.
Life coach, Joie Bose says, “When people come to me for relationship counselling they are so confused about their own feelings. As a counselor my job is to help them understand where they are going wrong and how they can set it right.
“Bringing in a third person’s views, who is trained in understanding relationship dynamics, is not judgmental about a couple and who can help you negotiate situations better, can work wonders for your relationship.”
The American Association Of Marriage And Family Therapy (AAMFT) says in its website marriage and family therapy is as effective, and in some cases more effective than standard and/or individual treatments for many mental health problems such as adult schizophrenia, affective (mood) disorders, adult alcoholism and drug abuse, children’s conduct disorders and marital distress and conflict.
Can counselling help a broken relationship? AAMFT reiterates 98 % of clients of marriage and family therapists report therapy services as good or excellent.
This obviously means that they got positive results from relationship counselling. In the feedback received by the AAMFT, 90 % of clients report an improvement in their emotional health, and nearly two-thirds report an improvement in their overall physical health.
A majority of clients report an improvement in their functioning at work, and over three-fourths of those receiving marital/couples or family therapy report an improvement in the couple relationship.
The benefits of relationship counselling includes pin-pointing the issues, reducing conflict, improving communication and self-esteem. It helps you manage your emotions better and renew the happiness quotient in a relationship.
You could opt for short-term therapy or a long-term one but relationship counselling helps you fix the issues that plague your relationship.
10 Things You Need To Know About Relationship Counselling
Before you opt for relationship counselling you might be having a lot of questions in your mind and you might be even skeptical if it will work in your favour.
In this article we have laid out in details what relationship counselling is all about. What you need to know and how it could help you straighten out the creases in your relationship.
Related Reading: 6 Relationship Problems Millennials Bring Up The Most In Therapy
1. Can counselling help a broken relationship?
Many people approach relationship counselors with the attitude that it would fix things like you fix 2-minute noodles for dinner. They think one sitting with the counselor and they would give a magic pill that would rejuvenate the relationship.
Kenneth Heffley, who went for counselling with his wife Megan (names changed) said, “When we went to a counselor I realised that our issues were far more than we had imagined.
“We thought our fights stemmed from the fact that I was into too much gaming. Then the counselor made us realize that our issues stemmed from the childhood we had. I had an abusive father and a toxic childhood and Megan had very religious conservative parents who controlled her every move.”
Relationship counselling needs both parties to get equally involved in the whole process to reap the benefits. Sometimes after couples therapy counselors go for individual therapy. But that is only after they have known your issues as a couple.
Counselling can help a broken relationship but you need to devote time to the regular sessions. Do not expect it to work like a magic wand.
2. Be honest when you are asked relationship counselling questions
Relationship counselling takes off with a lot of questions. The counselor will ask you about the main issues that led you to their office.
But to solve your problems you have to supply them with a lot of information. Tell them how you met, how your relationship was initially, when it took a turn for the worse and what are your future couple goals.
They would want to know about your individual histories, about your childhood, teenage and about your life before you came together.
They would want to focus on the strengths of your relationship and know about the weaknesses. In that case if you are not honest and forthcoming in the information you provide, you could be impeding the whole session.
3. The initial phase of counselling can escalate the issues
Relationship counselling could bring out some issues that you had pushed under the carpet and that could make things really unpleasant in the beginning.
You could be even left thinking that if you took the right decision to opt for relationship counselling. You could be brought back to those unpleasant memories and animosity you feel towards each other.
When couples opt for marriage counselling the relationship is already in a very volatile and stressful stage. When more unpleasant things are brought out from the relationship and put on the table, it could escalate the issues further.
Related Reading: 15 Signs Of Emotional Neglect In A Marriage
Relationship counselors who are highly skilled bring out the positives out of a situation like this by addressing the relationship and not the couple so that the blame shifting and anger is minimised.
4. Choosing the right relationship counselor
Relationship counselor, Dr. Aman Bhonsle says, “Therapy is often seen as a bandage where hearts can heal and minds can meet. However, there are also the odd occasions when therapy becomes – World War I style trench warfare where shots are fired by the people involved from several hidden ditches of the emotional terrain.”
In that case choosing the right counselor is a very important step. There are a lot of counselors out there, who could be all trained with degrees to flaunt and their fees could be going through the roof but what’s the end result?
You could come out of a therapy session feeling highly dissatisfied and even more stressed. Because unknown to you, your therapist could have taken sides, allowed you to have fights where you interrupted and blamed each other, while they sat back and just watched.
High fees do not always ensure the best counselor. A good way to zero in on the right therapist is to ask friends, who have gone to therapy themselves, to recommend. You can check out the testimonials about the counselors too.
Finding a counselor who is a member of a number of recognized organizations means they take their profession seriously.
5. What’s their method of intervention?
It is a good idea to go for someone who practices emotionally focused couples therapy or the Gottman method.
For instance being a member of AAMFT means they have taken rigorous training and have gone through the required coursework that makes them certified relationship counsellors.
Also it’s important to know if your relationship counsellor is neutral or marriage friendly. If they are neutral they would allow the couselling sessions to take you towards a split but if they believe that a marriage has to be saved at all costs they would put in every effort to ensure that a marriage stays intact.
Also a good relationship counselor will be proactive, give feedback while the session is on and will intervene at the right time.
They will give you homework and will review your progress with you regularly.
6. You will be resistant to change
If you think that you will go to therapy and everything will work out like a breeze then you are making a big mistake. It is seen that people often hate the changes suggested in a relationship by a counselor and become rather reluctant and even resistant about it.
In the paper Reluctance and Resistance: Challenges to Change in Psychotherapy, clinical psychologist Sare Ucar writes: Reluctance is defined as unwillingness or hesitancy to participate fully in the helping process because of reluctance to change, while resistance is about disagreement of the clients regarding the approach of changing process of the therapists.
In this case, the clients may acts as dissenters rather than collaborative partners to change.
People resist change because they don’t want to face their own feelings or while counselling they realize that they have been monsters while dealing with their partners.
So couples could be willing to communicate more, try conflict resolution techniques, and do their homework diligently but if therapists suggest certain changes in their behavior and habits they become resistant.
Related Reading: 8 Ways to Reconnect After a Big Fight
7. Do unmarried couples go to counselling?
They do but the numbers are far less compared to married couples who opt for therapy. Millennials attend therapy more often than their earlier generations, because they realize the importance of therapy.
Presently 7% of the total American population cohabitate. So their issues are turning out to be similar as married couple’s issues because of cohabitation.
Also, many young unmarried couples feel that it is best to opt for relationship counselling when the issues start and you can nip it in the bud.
Viv and Gia (names changed) were in the relationship for two months when Gia realised that he was verbally abusive and had serious anger issues.
Then when she prodded Viv she came to know it came from abuse he faced as a child. She could have insisted on individual therapy for him but instead they went for relationship counselling and are in a much better space now.
8. When to get relationship counselling?
This is a vital question that many couples ask. As we said earlier that John Gottman said that couples often land up in therapy too late. Much water has gone below the bridge by then and it is nearly impossible to salvage the relationship then.
Couples most often feel that the issues they are facing are normal and they would be able to navigate through it. But it is important for a couple to acknowledge that something is seriously wrong with the relationship and the next big step is to go for relationship counselling.
Usually couples go for counselling when they are unable to resolve conflicts, communication has dropped to a zero and they can clearly feel they are drifting apart.
Lack of physical and emotional intimacy may also lead to issues in a marriage. Sometimes couples know something is wrong in the relationship but they cannot make out what exactly is the issue, in that case, also they can go for relationship counselling.
9. Pre-marital relationship counselling tips
People earlier used to go for counselling only when the marriage was in trouble but now many couples are opting for pre-marital counselling to make the foundation of the marriage strong.
They want to avoid the mistakes their earlier generations made. One of the biggest plus points of pre-marital counselling is you can clear a few doubts that have the possibility of becoming nagging issues in the relationship.
For instance one partner might be keeping in touch with an ex and another partner might not be okay with that after the wedding. This issue can be addressed.
Partners can also discuss how they look at gender roles in the relationship, decide on sharing finances and discuss about starting a family. For instance one partner might want a baby early in the marriage and the other might want to stall the responsibility.
The toxic resentments are already there and unless straightened out could raise its ugly head in your marriage.
For starters you could address the potential areas of conflict. For instance money issues – she is a spendthrift he is a miser, or he snores too much and she likes the air-conditioner chilled.
Starting from intimacy to religious beliefs to life goals you can take the help of a counselor to discuss all and find a solution even before your marriage takes off. The relationship counselling tips that you get also help greatly in the future.
Related Reading: Here is why you can’t fix bad relationships with fake smiles
10. What does relationship counselling do?
In 70 % cases it improves relationships but in 30 % cases relationship counselling can end a marriage.
Often couples are mixed agenda couples that means while one partner wants to salvage the marriage, the other joins the therapy sessions with the agenda that it would help them find a way out of the marriage.
This is something that counselors notice when couples opt for relationship counselling. So when they keep untying the knots in the relationship through counselling it could gradually become clear that the relationship could not be salvaged.
Both partners might be willing participants in the counselling but despite that it might be unraveled that the relationship won’t work in any way.
Many couples end their marriage just after therapy. Sometimes the go for a trial separation but most often they still cannot salvage the relationship.
So this reality also has to be accepted when a couple is opting for relationship counselling. There is always a possibility that it could end in a divorce.