What is couple counselling / marriage therapy?
Couple counselling is a form of psychological intervention where a couple consults a professional couples counsellor or marriage therapist together with a view to improving or changing aspects of their relationship. In this short article I will use the terms couples counselling and marriage therapy interchangeably.
Marriage therapy differs from individual therapy in that the couples counsellor’s client is both parties. In individual therapy the counsellor’s aim is to promote the best interests of the person consulting him/her but in counselling with couples the counsellor aims to address patterns of relationship between the couple that may be causing either or both parties distress.
The working method in couple counselling and marriage therapy
Generally a couples counsellor will meet with both parties at the first meeting. Some marriage therapists prefer to meet with first one member of a couple and then the other and then meet the couple together in a third consultation. This is sometimes a useful way to begin as it gives each party an opportunity to clarify with the couple’s counsellor what their expectations of marriage therapy are and to detail their concerns and fears about their relationship.
Generally couples counselling and marriage therapy are shorter term interventions – running between 6 and 10 sessions. Follow up appointments may be scheduled at longer intervals to maintain and feedback on changes that the couple may have made in their relationship.
What to expect from couples counselling and marriage therapy
A good couples counsellor or marriage therapist will be careful to ensure that (s)he has a thorough understanding of both member ’s of the couple point of view. Couple therapists have training that empahsises that in an intimate relationship such as a marriage the couple’s behaviour and communications mutually influence one another. Often, marriage therapists liken a relationship to a dance, the moves of the one complement and necessitate the moves of the other. The couple’s counsellor will listen to the couple as they communicate with one another and as the marriage therapy progresses, will intervene to adjust patterns of communication or to disrupt patterns of the “dance” that are destructive or causing pain.
An effective marriage therapist may also make concrete suggestions as to how to handle specific situations.
Who may practice couple counselling and marriage therapy?
In general, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and registered counsellors are the practitioners of couple counselling. Mental health professionals such as these may only practice couple’s counselling or marriage therapy if their training included a couple counselling or marriage therapy component.
Couples counselling is also practiced by la counsellors in church and volunteer contexts.
What problems can be dealt with in couples counselling and marriage therapy?
Couple counselling and marriage therapy is a useful intervention to deal with many of the issues that arise in intimate relationships. These include;
- Different expectations around sex and intimacy
- Persistent conflict
- Child rearing issues
- Financial issues
- Dealing with extended family
- Negotiation of life transitions such as childbirth, retirement, loss of a child
- Emotional distance in the couple
This list is by no means exhaustive. Couple counselling and marriage therapy can also be used to deepen and enrich relationships.
Couple Counselling F.A.Q.
My partner doesn’t want to see a couple counsellor or marriage therapist but I think we must. What do I do?
Try to find out the reasons for your partner’s reluctance to attend a couple counselling. For some people there is still a stigma attached to seeing marriage therapist or couple counsellor. Sometimes there is a perception that coupe counselling forces people to expose feelings that they are unwilling to. Sometimes a partner may be unwilling to come to marriage therapy because they feel that the problem is not serious enough. Talk about it with your partner. If they are unwilling to talk or close the conversation down then write them a letter in which you stress your reasons for wanting to see a marriage therapist.
Whatever else happens, don’t let your partner’s unwillingness stop you from seeking professional assistance. Most couple counsellors and marriage therapists also offer individual therapeutic services. Make an appointment with someone who does both and go and see them on your own. Often this act lone is enough to spur an unwilling partner into coming to couple counselling.
I feel that the couple counsellor is more on my partner’s “side” than mine. I’m thinking about dropping out of the marriage therapy.
This is something that may occur and as awkward as it is, discuss it with your couple counsellor. Tell them why you think this and what it is that the marriage therapist is doing that gives you this feeling.