what to know before you go to couples counseling

10 Things You Should Know Before Attending Couples Counseling

Individual counseling is getting less and less taboo, as mental health is being discussed more frequently in the mainstream media and as apps are cropping up to help promote wellness and emotional wellbeing. It’s important that while individual counseling becomes more mainstream, that couples counseling does as well. Couples counseling is often seen as something that only desperate couples should invest in as a last ditch effort to save their relationship. But this is far from the truth. Couples counseling is something that even happy partners should invest in as a part of routine relationship maintenance.

If this is the first time you have come across the term, you might be asking yourself, ‘what is couples counseling?. Couples counseling helps partners improve their romantic relationship and solve interpersonal conflict that could be affecting the relationship. Couples counseling can take place in-person in a therapist’s office, online through a telehealth counseling system or through an app. Any couple, whether they are going through a rough patch, looking for strategies on how to manage conflict or preparing for a big life change can consider couples counseling to provide a forum and tools to address these things. If you and your partner are considering couples counseling, here are ten things that you should know:

There is no taboo

If you and your partner commit to couples counseling, know that there is no taboo! You can talk to your counselor (and your partner for that matter) about anything that is on your mind, no matter how taboo, shameful or embarrassing you think that it might be. While every relationship is different, we are all human, and the fact of the matter is that you are not the only person in the world feeling a certain way. If you are nervous about bringing up something that you are feeling, know that your counselor has probably met another person who has gone through this as well. If you want the counseling process to improve your relationship, you will have to be vulnerable during couples counseling! This can mean talking about difficult or taboo things, but trusting the process will help you improve your relationship, which is the ultimate goal.

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It doesn't mean the end of the relationship

Like we mentioned before, deciding to go to couples counseling is not the kiss of death for your relationship! Plenty of happy couples pursue couples counseling as a way to talk through their problems, learn to manage interpersonal conflict, or just to get an outside perspective on their relationship. No relationship is perfect, which means that every relationship has some room for improvement. This can often come in the forms of couples counseling! The only time couples counseling could be the end of the relationship is if you wait too long before going to a counselor.

Couples counseling is not only for times of crisis

We said it before, and we will say it again! Couples counseling is for any type of couple (happy, sad, healthy, unhealthy, etc.) at any point in the relationship, whether it’s a time of crisis, a time of transition or a time for change. More often than not, couples counseling should not be for a time of crisis, because that often means that problems in the relationships have gone on for too long, Most relationships are salvageable if you and your partner are willing to put in the work and make changes, but if you wait until a crisis, the problems are often too far gone. If you are considering couples counseling, this is your sign to pursue couples counseling! There is no wrong time to pursue it, and (if you are committed) it will only improve your relationship.

There are different kinds of couples counseling

Before you and your partner attend couples counseling, know that there are many different types of counseling out there. From the Gottman Method to narrative therapy to solution-focused therapy, there are a lot of different schools of thought about the best way to approach relationship counseling. This means that you and your partner might need to do some research about what type of counseling you would like to pursue. More often than not, counselors have an array of training and can tailor your counseling experience using the most appropriate method. But sometimes, you will have to put in some leg work to find the right fit for you.

In addition to finding the right kind of couples counseling, you and your partner might need to shop around for a different counselor in order to find the perfect fit. Even though couples counseling is more about your relationship with your partner than it’s about your relationship with the counselor, the couple-counselor relationship can affect how the counseling goes. You want to make sure that you trust your counselor enough to be totally transparent with them. Before you and your partner attend counseling, know that it can be a bit of a process to find the perfect fit. But the process is totally worth it!

You can attend individually or with your partner

This is often news to people! Couples counseling does not necessarily require you and your partner to talk to a counselor at the same time. Whether it’s because of your schedule, your personal preferences or the determination of your counselor, sometimes it’s better to have separate counseling sessions about your relationship. Individual couples therapy can provide more one-on-one time with a counselor, which can help you and your partner make more improvements.

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Be prepared to share

Like we mentioned before, it is important to trust the counseling process. This means that you have to be able to share what is on your mind (yes, even the taboo things!). If you are not in the practice of articulating your feelings or sharing them with another person (especially a stranger), then it’s a good idea to collect your thoughts before walking into a counselor's office. One of the first things a counselor will often ask is what you want to work on in the relationship, so before your first counseling session, it’s a good idea to think about what improvements you want to make! Sharing intense emotions does not come naturally to most people, and it will be something that you have to practice inside and outside of the therapist’s office. Writing your thoughts down in a journal or thinking about your emotions before counseling will help you be prepared to share.

It’s not an instant fix

Before you start counseling, it is important to have realistic expectations about the process. Think about committing to counseling as the first step in the process of improving your relationship. Going to one counseling session is not going to instantly fix problems in your relationship or immediately improve things. All change takes time, including positive relationship change. Couples counseling can often take a long time, some counselors even argue that it is never a finished process and that counseling can and should be ongoing for the course of the relationship. This does not have to be the case, but it is helpful to recognize that in many cases counseling can be a long process.

The skills you'll learn will help in others areas of life

Couples counseling is all about addressing interpersonal relationships and conflict. And while a significant part of couples counseling is focused on intimacy (whether it’s emotional, physical or sexual), other parts are just focused on communication, conflict resolution and other skills that can help you and your partner navigate other close relationships in your life. Lessons that you learn in couples counseling can be translated to family relationships, friendships and even dynamics in the workplace!

It’s ok to switch counselors, providers, platforms

As we mentioned before, finding the right counselor can often take some trial and error, but it’s important to keep trying out different counselors until you find the right option. Counselors understand that there needs to be a good connection and will not be offended if you shop around to try and find the perfect fit. Before you attend couples counseling, it’s important to keep in mind that if things aren’t working how you want them to, you can always change your counselor or even change the platform you are using to try and get better results.

A lot of couples start out with in-person counseling because it is the only type of counseling they are familiar with, but there are lots of other options out there. Whether it’s group counseling or online relationship apps there are plenty of different counseling platforms to try out so that you and your partner find the perfect fit.

It can actually be fun

Before you attend couples counseling, know that it can actually be a fun process. Identifying weaknesses in your relationship and making goals to improve these weaknesses is a super rewarding process. Couples counseling has the potential to bring you closer to your partner, which is also a fun and rewarding experience. Depending on the reasons that you decided to pursue counseling, it can be a difficult and painful process at time, but the process can be fun at the same time.

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