Often people think that couples counselling is for couples who are on the verge of divorce, or who have discovered one partner is having an affair or for couples experiencing chronic conflict.
But actually, these relationships often can't be helped. These couples have procrastinated and waited too long. Often, there is nothing a couples counselor or a marriage therapist can do. The reality is there is a “window of time” for improving any situation. Once that window is closed it is very hard to make significant improvements.
The best candidates for couples counselling are newly married couples or engaged couples, before bad habits get cemented into the fabric of the relationship.
Couples who have hit some hard bumps but basically have an intact relationship and couples in crisis can be successful in turning around their relationship and create a positive, supportive relationship if they get help soon enough.
Even couples in very good marriages should have one or two sessions of couples counselling, to learn to avoid the four harmful patterns that can kill any relationship, to create a Relationship Vision together, and put in place an ongoing maintenance plan to avoid problems down the road.
Couples who are successful in couples counselling focus on themselves, take responsibility for the dysfunctional behaviour they bring to the relationship, learn why they act in harmful ways and work to change their own bad behaviour immediately.
They learn how to get their needs met with their partner in a constructive manner. They learn why their relationship has problems and what they did to create those problems. Making excuses for oneself or blaming a partner, child, in-laws or the globally mobile lifestyle on relationship problems will only continue the problem.
Usually by the second or third week of the treatment plan, successful couples are able to control and minimize most conflict and arguments. Most couples need to commit to two to three months of weekly 50 minute sessions to get to the point where they have the skills and personal awareness to create a positive and supportive relationship without the help of a therapist.
During sessions couples role play, watch vignettes, practise communication, listening and problem solving skills. Homework is given to continue the therapeutic process outside of the counselling sessions.
Couples who work hard will accomplish the following by the end of the treatment plan:
1) Self awareness - each partner recognizes when his or her behaviour is negatively impacting the relationship and knows how to correct it
2) Self awareness - each partner knows how his or her family background, culture and gender can negatively impact the relationship and knows how to correct it
3) Other awareness - each partner understands the other and how to help him or her
4) Harmful Patterns - each partner knows the harmful patterns that can destroy a relationship and knows how to stop them
5) Communication - each partner knows how to express him or herself so the other understands
6) Communication - each partner knows how to ask for what he or she needs
7) Listening - each partner knows how to listen and give feedback effectively
8) Conflict Resolution - each partner knows how to resolve conflict in a constructive manner
9) Decision Making - each partner knows how to make decisions as a couple in an effective way
10) Each partner can readily admit when she or he is wrong
11) Each partner feels that overall their relationship is fair
12) Each partner makes an ongoing conscious effort to create a positive relationship
Your primary relationship is one of the most valuable assets you have. You need to nurture it and invest in it. If your relationship is not everything you want it to be, seek help from a licensed marriage therapist right away. If strained relationships are left untreated for too long, one partner or both will eventually give up and move on emotionally or physically. It will be too late to save the relationship.
Primary relationships can become the most deeply satisfying of all human relationships, and can provide a loving safe haven from the stresses and strains of the outside world. You owe it to yourself to make your primary relationship the relationship you always dreamed of!