It's the best thing you never knew you needed.
Couples therapy doesn't always get the good reputation it deserves. It's actually all about learning to communicate, and there's no couple that can't benefit from that.
One of the "guidelines" or "rules" in most couples sessions is that one person speaks at a time while the other is asked to listen.
"Often, the one doing the listening will be asked to reflect back what their partner has said. This technique allows both partners to really hear one another. In the midst of a heated conflict, our emotions tend to take over, clouding our ability to think rationally and increasing our chances of saying things we'll later regret.
Emotions are bound to arise in a couples session; however, in the presence of a therapist to act as mediator, you're less likely to say things you'll later have to apologize for," says Allison Abrams, LCSW, a psychotherapist.
Learning effective communication skills such as active listening, not interrupting, showing interest in what the other is saying, and reflecting back or clarifying allows couples to fight better, ultimately bringing them closer. Here are some additional ways couples therapy can improve your relationship.
1. It's not about airing your dirty laundry in public.
No good therapist will chastise you for your behavior or attitudes, says Tina Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of How to be Happy Partners: Working it out Together.
2. It's not about changing your partner.
The best way to change your partner is to change how you relate.
"It really can vastly improve your marriage and make you happier. You can learn skills you didn't know you needed, which will get you what you want. Don't look at this as scary, but as enlightening. You won't be harmed or belittled; instead, you'll be delighted at what you find out," says Tessina.
3. It doesn't cost a lot.
The earlier you go in, the quicker you can get the problem solved and the less it will cost.
4. No topic is off-limits.
"Whatever you haven't been able to talk about, the therapist will create a safe place for you to hear and be heard," says Tessina. Fighting isn't a necessary part of marriage, but communication is, and therapy will help you change your fighting to communication.
5. Even divorcing couples can benefit from marriage counseling.
If you have children, you'll have a relationship forever, so learn how to work together even if it's just for their sake.
6. It's all about partnership...
"Every marriage needs to be a partnership — emotionally, financially, socially and domestically," says Tessina. Therapy can teach you how to do this, even if you already get along.
7. ...but you should still know when to call it quits.
"Couples therapy only works when both partners want to be there. If one person is just going because their spouse is forcing them to, they are going to go in with a defensive attitude and the entire situation can easily become extremely counterproductive," says Eric Resnick, a dating coach. "As long as both people are truly open to couples therapy... it can provide a safe space for both partners to vent productively."
8. If you're going to make the effort, hold nothing back.
In a troubled relationship, a lot of times it's what goes unsaid that ends up being the cracks in the dam.
"People stop saying things because they are insecure about whether they'll truly be heard. Or worse, the response they get might be in the form of yet another argument. A therapist can create an environment where everyone cannot only safely say what they need to say, but be sure that they are actually heard," says Resnick.