Is Couples Counseling Right For Us?
Couples may seek counseling for a variety of reasons — from wishing to improve their communication patterns or learn more effective ways to resolve conflicts to working to repair their relationship after a serious betrayal of trust.
Although many people think that couples counseling is only for couples in crisis, many couples actually seek counseling simply to improve their communication, to enhance their intimacy, or to so that they can prevent larger issues from developing in the future.
In fact, research has shown that couples who seek counseling earlier — before problems become too entrenched or resentments build too high — often benefit even more than couples who wait. That being said, couples counseling can be transformative at any stage of life, and it’s never too late to work on your relationship!
Some common goals for couples counseling include:
• Improving communication, learning how to more clearly articulate your needs and really listen to one another,
• Learning to address and resolve conflicts more effectively and respectfully,
• Breaking unhealthy patterns and building new ones,
• Addressing sexual issues,
• Enhancing emotional and physical intimacy,
• Negotiating or re-negotiating roles,
• Processing betrayals (such as lying or affairs), working to repair the relationship,
• (In the case of a planned separation/divorce) thoughtfully and respectfully negotiating a separation and resolving unfinished business to assist each individual in moving forward,
• (For couples who have separated but have children together) respectfully and effectively negotiating co-parenting roles.
What Couples Counseling Is…
Whatever issues might bring you to couples counseling, my primary focus is usually on enhancing your communication. It’s unlikely that I have The Magic Solution to your challenges as a couple (if only!), but I can help the two of you communicate more effectively and become more aware of your own and each others’ needs and triggers so that you can negotiate solutions that work for your relationship.
I work to improve your communication as a couple in a number of ways — by asking thoughtful questions to allow each of you to more clearly articulate your needs, by helping you and your partner really listen to one another, by clarifying misunderstandings, by making observations about communication styles or patterns, and by making direct suggestions for ways to communicate more effectively.
Another important role I play is in helping you nurture your connection and more fully appreciate your strengths as a couple — something that can be especially difficult when you’re struggling with challenges together. As we work toward solutions to specific issues, it’s often equally important to recall what drew you to one another in the first place and to build your friendship and mutual appreciation through positive experiences together.
I find many couples benefit from homework — activities or exercises they can work on together between our sessions — to enhance their communication, strengthen trust, and increase intimacy. I will encourage you both to play an active role in coming up with ideas for homework activities to ensure that they feel helpful and that they fit your needs and goals.
Sometimes, I may work with couples to better understand the origins of problematic patterns by exploring family or relationship histories; however, our focus will always remain on how this increased awareness can help you move forward in a new and more satisfying way in your relationship.
…And What It’s Not
Importantly, my role is NOT to take sides or determine who is “right” or “wrong.”
As Gerald Jampolsky wrote, “You can either be right or you can be happy” — and this statement may be nowhere more true than in couples counseling!
In fact, when I work with couples, I see my primary role as advocating for and working to enhance the health of the relationship itself, not keeping score between individuals or playing umpire.
Of course, the individual needs of each partner are essential to the health of the relationship. But there are no winners and losers. Couples counseling works best when everyone’s on the same team. When couples are struggling to see themselves on the same side, it’s my job to hold on to this perspective and to gently nudge them toward recognizing that what is good for each of them is also good for the relationship, and that a strong, healthy relationship ultimately benefits each partner.
Of course, there may be times when the needs or wellbeing of one or both partners necessitate ending a relationship. In such cases, my goal is to help partners process unresolved issues and end their relationship respectfully and in a manner that honors what they have shared — and one that facilitates each individual moving forward in their lives.
What To Expect:
Initial Phone Consultation
During our initial phone consultation (which is free of charge and which can be with either one or both of you), I will ask you some questions to get a better sense of what brings you to couples counseling and what you’re hoping to get out of our work together. This conversation will help us begin to consider whether there is a good fit between us. If you have had any previous experiences in couples counseling, I will want to hear about what you may have found helpful (or unhelpful) in these experiences.
Learning more about your current needs and goals as a couple will help me tailor my approach in working with you — or guide me in making referrals to another counselor who might better fit your needs and preferences.
First Few Sessions
In our first session, we will meet together (with both partners) to discuss the current challenges in your relationship and to develop shared goals for our work together. We will discuss not only some of your current struggles but also what you see as your strengths as a couple.
At the end of our first meeting, we will decide what makes the most sense for you moving forward. We may decide that it would be helpful to schedule 1-2 individual sessions with each of you to discuss any individual issues that may be getting in the way of intimacy within your relationship and to further discuss your personal goals for our work together. However, for many couples, it will make more sense to continue to just meet together.
Following these first few sessions, our meetings will then be held jointly, usually once per week.
Toward the beginning of our work together, I find that it’s often helpful to discuss your relationship history, relationship dynamics in each of your families of origin, and other contextual factors that may influence your patterns of communication. Beyond that, our work together will really depend on your individual needs and goals as a couple.
But What If My Partner Won’t Agree To Come In? — A Solution: Couples Counseling For One
Maybe you’re interested in working on your relationship and ready to reach out for some help — great! Only problem is that your partner isn’t on the same page.
It’s not uncommon for one partner to be ready to work on the relationship when the other is not, or for one to feel more hesitant about seeking help from a professional. While this can feel frustrating, it doesn’t have to prevent you from getting the help you’re looking for to improve your relationship.
In addition to more traditional couples counseling, I also offer what I call “couples counseling for one.” We can meet individually with a focus on understanding the dynamics that present challenges in your relationship and work to improve communication from your side. Even small shifts on your side have the potential to make big impacts on your relationship — both on the responses you get from your partner, and on how you feel about the dynamic between the two of you.
Although this is not a substitute for couples counseling, couples counseling for one is a great way to work on understanding your own patterns within the relationship, developing new strategies for handling challenges from your side, and clarifying your needs so you can better communicate these to your partner outside of our sessions.
Couples I Work With
I specialize in working expat couples whose relationships have been impacted by the experiences of moving abroad as well as intercultural couples. I enjoy working with both opposite-sex and same-sex couples as well as with couples in all stages of life and from all cultural backgrounds.
I do not work with couples who have a pattern of physical violence in their relationships. That being said, I am absolutely open to working with individuals in such cases.
If you are currently in a relationship that involves any type of violence or abuse (physical, sexual, or emotional), please know you are not alone. In addition to considering individual counseling, please see my Resources page for a list of resources specifically related to intimate partner violence.
If you have any questions about couples and relationship counseling or if you would like to schedule an initial phone consultation with me (free of charge), please get in touch.
I look forward to hearing from you!