Romantic relationships are rarely free of conflicts and arguments. Nor should they be. After all, relationships involve two unique individuals—from different backgrounds and with different perceptions, personalities, values, and goals—trying to maintain an intimate and loving connection. So conflicts are bound to occur and that’s the main reason we need marriage counseling.
However, sometimes these difficulties become frequent and intense; instead of helping the partners reach a better understanding of each other, they create distance and hostility. That is one of the reasons couples may seek marriage counseling, which is also known as couples therapy.
Marriage counseling might be beneficial in a variety of ways, as described below.
One of the most important ways couples therapy helps is by providing useful information.
To illustrate, a young couple might benefit from learning more about preventing sexually transmitted diseases, setting healthy boundaries, creating or deepening intimacy, and balancing the responsibilities of being in a relationship with other obligations (e.g., work, school).
An older couple whose relationship lacks passion might benefit from learning whether what they are experiencing is normal or how to rekindle the passion in their relationship.
In general, couples seek counseling to learn the right way to deal with major issues or changes in their lives, like infidelity, childbirth, death in the family, career changes, retirement, or moving to a new city.
Therapy can teach couples to communicate better—meaning to communicate more mindfully, openly, honestly, and respectfully.
This often includes, at the very least, learning how to listen actively; for instance, to pay attention, listen with interest and without judging, and convey understanding.
Healthy communication is particularly important during fights. Why? Because a conflict is often exacerbated as a result of counterproductive behaviors, such as shouting, insulting, bringing up the past, changing the subject, and engaging in counterattacks.2
The communication skills learned in therapy will be useful during discussions of a variety of current and future hot-button issues (e.g., love, sex, division of chores, finances, in-laws).
3. Relationship dynamics
People bring into a relationship certain anxieties, beliefs, and old patterns of relating; these can affect the new relationship in negative ways.
To illustrate, consider the effects of a parent/child dynamic: The romantic partner in the role of the parent keeps pushing the other partner to do something, and the one in the role of the child pulls away or simply defies the “parent.” The more one pushes, the more the other pulls away. This creates a vicious circle.
As a result of old patterns like the above, people in a new relationship might find themselves experiencing dissatisfaction, stress, and worsening of mental health problems (e.g., anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse). This is particularly the case when individuals entering into a new relationship are simply unaware of old dynamics or have not sufficiently worked through past emotional issues in therapy.
Couples counseling helps identify and modify such dynamics before they damage the relationship beyond repair.
How to pick a counselor for marriage counseling?
While marriage counseling can be quite helpful, it is important that you (together with your partner) select a marriage counselor who is characterized in the following way:
- Is educated, experienced, and licensed.
- Has an approach that meets your needs.
- Is able to create a safe space where you can be yourself.
- Shares your values (e.g., regarding marriage and divorce).
- Makes you and your partner feel heard and understood.
If you and your spouse are willing to put in the time and effort to work on your relationship, then there is a good chance that couples counseling could help you build a foundation for a healthy, passionate, and intimate relationship.