How Does Couples Counseling Work?
Couples counseling looks a little different for each couple depending on your relationship needs and each personality in the room. Generally speaking, the goals tend to revolve around improving communication and connectedness, improving conflict resolution and effective problem solving, increasing intimacy and trust, navigating life changes together, and processing painful emotions in the supportive environment with a trained professional.
Sometimes couples get stuck in patterns that aren’t working for them. We all have our own versions of crazy cycles that we play out repeatedly that are ultimately destructive to our relationships. Sometimes they are big negative patterns; sometimes they seem minor but build frustration over time. To illustrate, consider a hypothetical conversation that goes like this…
He asks, “How was your day?”
She answers, “fine.”
He thinks, ‘Why is she blowing me off? Doesn’t she want to talk to me? Did I do something to upset her?’ So he asks, “Why are you upset?”
She feels mildly annoyed now, “Why do you always assume I’m upset? I said I’m fine.”
He says, “Your tone doesn’t sound fine.”
She huffs “Are you calling me a liar?”
And you get the idea…
Whether your issues are big or small, counseling can be very helpful in getting you off of the crazy train.
Will the counselor listen to our case and tell us who’s right and who needs to change?
In almost every relationship there are things each individual could do to bring positive change. While you may only be responsible for 30% of the issues that have brought struggles to the relationship, you are 100% responsible for how you respond. In couples counseling good therapists try not to take sides, but to help both partners better understand each other’s perspective and communicate more effectively. While sessions may not be focused on an individual exactly 50% of the time, it’s important that there is a balance and each partner leaves with ideas or tools to improve the relationship. If you want a counselor who will only side with you and tell your partner that they’re completely wrong- you won’t find that here.
Our goal in couples counseling is to bring healing and new problem solving ideas to your relationship. We are here to encourage and bring you hope that change is possible. No matter how conflictual you may be in this season of life, we won’t give up on your relationship unless you do.
Isn’t Couples Counseling just for those on the Brink of Divorce?
A good marriage is like a car, it may need repairs when something breaks down, but break downs will happen less often with regular maintenance and tune ups. Most couples wait far too long (typically 5 years) before addressing a problem and by that point the small problem feels pretty massive. Unaddressed issues increase resentment and make it more challenging to address, though not impossible. If you still have a pretty good relationship and just want to improve some things—that is wonderful! Congratulations on taking this wise step before you “really need it”. Couples who wait to seek help until they have reached full crisis mode can still find benefit from therapy, but it tends to be a more painful and longer road to recovery.
What if my partner doesn’t want to come?
We work with many…shall we say… less than eager spouses. If your partner outright refuses to attend, we do have individual counselors who can help you to navigate your part in the relationship and process your struggles. If your partner will still attend, we try to be mindful of their hesitation and build rapport quickly so they can become invested in the process. Sometimes partners can be won over by therapy when they realize that couples counseling is a two-way street and the therapist is not there to judge them or tell them what they are doing wrong. Good couples counselors try to balance the session so one partner doesn’t feel ganged up on by their spouse and the therapist. Sometimes they get invested in the process as soon as they realize that the counselor cares about their goals for change as well.
How long do couples usually attend therapy?
This completely depends on the couple and the issues you want to address. Some couples have small challenged like minor life adjustments or communication skills they’d like to develop and may feel they can meet their goals in 5-10 sessions, while others may benefit from longer term work.
If you’ve got long-standing resentments or issues that have spanned years, it could take months to feel like you’ve found restoration. Sometimes major breaches of trust could take longer as well and your couples counselor might recommend some individual therapy in conjunction with the couples work to help you both to heal. Usually couples meet with their therapist on a weekly basis based on their schedule until they start to feel like they are improving their relationship or achieving their goals.
Ultimately, a big determining factor for the success of couples counseling and often the length of time required is how motivated you are to make change and your willingness to work on the relationship in between sessions. You only see your therapist for 45 minutes to an hour once a week, but the real repair happens in the relationship as you practice what you have learned. It’s truly up to you and your partner.
Does insurance cover couples counseling?
Sometimes. Not all plans cover family counseling, but it is still possible in most of those cases to bill family sessions as individual sessions. And we can answer more questions about this if this is the case with your plan. We can also assist you in verifying your benefits if this is a concern for you. Client advocacy is part of our passion and we believe everyone should be able to clearly understand how their insurance will cover them.
Many plans cover “family counseling” but may tell you they don’t cover “couples counseling”. This is maddening for us from a client advocacy standpoint, because it feels deceptive—both services are billed with the exact same code. Family counseling means more than one person is in the room working on family issues--clearly couples work fits this definition!
Are our records still private?
When you attend couples counseling, even though one person may be the “identified client” based on insurance standards, the therapist focuses on the couple as the client. This means that records, while they technically belong to the “identified client” may not be released by your therapist without consent from both parties. Your therapist maintains this line in order to protect both of you and your privacy. Anything said in your sessions is obviously not private from your partner. If you have questions about this we can answer further by phone as well. Our goal is always to protect your confidentiality and work in your best interest.