When Couples Counseling works is when some key–no, actually essential–factors are present and continuously addressed, both for the clients and the therapist. Here follows a breakdown of the main conditions that are necessary for a shift to truly occur in your relationship! The main thing to remember is that we all have patterns of thinking and behavior that made sense at one time, but may have become, let’s say, “less than helpful” to downright detrimental later in life, or in intimate relationship. We all have blind spots when it comes to our impact on others, so utilizing an experienced guide in couples counseling is often critical in bringing hidden tendencies and patterns to light. Behaviors are a result of trying to achieve happiness–it’s just that we bump up against another’s idea of how to get there, and think their way is crazy while my way is sane. So looking at one’s beliefs systems around key issues is essential. The way our human mind tends to operate, under the heavy thumb of Ego (which is only concerned with its wants and needs), keeps us from seeing the big picture and seeing another person’s point of view as really valid. So learn to go easy on your partner and yourself! Change is slow, because it takes humans a while to expand their views and to grow a fresh perspective. The whole point of couples counseling–ahem, of life–is growth, which only occurs as consciousness shifts…and that is only after some struggle and painful moments.
Key factors to positive outcomes in couples counseling:
- Motivation: Understanding that conflict is an inevitable part of a committed, intimate relationship, and caring enough to get below the surface to tackle the hard stuff
- Timing: not going for counseling soon enough is a big predictor of negative outcomes for relationships. Most couples simply do not get help when they need it most, and wait an average of SIX YEARS TOO LONG! This is sad, and brings so much needless suffering.
- Honesty: this is an essential factor to successful therapy, as well as a happy heartfelt life!
- Being teachable: this means being humble enough to accept that you may not know everything about yourself, good communication or how to create a really good relationship
- Big picture vision: being able to set aside your own point of view, even just for a short while, to try to imagine what your partner’s experience is like
- Being able to receive feedback from your partner or therapist without letting defensiveness shut you down
- Being able to reflect back your partners experience, and actually empathize with them
- Willingness to try different behaviors, and consider or work with a new/different belief system
- Neutrality of the therapist: a skilled couples counselor has learned enough about herself, and brought her shadow material to conscious awareness, that she does not get pulled into either clients’ point of view. But if this does occur (we are only human after all), an experienced counselor will recognize it sooner rather than later, address it in counseling, and use it to catalyze deeper discussions for the couple.
For those familiar John and Julie Gottman’s work (famous evidence-based couples counselors and researchers), here’s an interesting article on The Effectiveness of Marriage Counseling