What Makes Couples' Counseling Effective?

Photo by  Ben Cremin

Photo by Ben Cremin

Seeking out couples' counseling, especially for the first time, is often a difficult process for both partners.

It can be emotionally taxing to admit that something may have gone wrong in your relationship and that it needs help in order to get back on track. It can be even more difficult to satisfy both partners' needs and objectives in therapy in order to ensure that progress is made; however, with some ground rules and willingness to participate on both ends, couples' therapy can be very effective.

Liz Gentry, our Senior Director of Programs, defines four different categories that can help contribute to successful couples' counseling:

1. Trust

Trust is key, both between the therapist and and the couple as well as both partners.

2. Commitment

In order to make progress, commitment is crucial, both to the relationship itself and to resolving conflict within the relationship.

3. Vulnerability

Both partners should be willing to express their feelings and be open in session.

4. Ownership of Fault

Both partners should be willing to admit their role in the conflict.

Gentry also believes that the key to successful couples' counseling is managing expectations. In a society where we are conditioned to believe that love should look a certain way, we are often told what our relationships should look like -- however, the fact is that every relationship is different, and individual growth is an important part of every relationship.

While both partners don't necessarily grow together, that doesn't mean that they have to grow apart, either. Realizing this can be crucial for couples who want to work on their relationship and see results.

When a couple comes in for counseling and no longer has faith in the relationship, that is where the therapist steps in. "It's a therapist's job to hold hope for the couple, even if the couple doesn't believe it," Gentry says. "The therapist can do that by providing structure for the couple."

Along with structure, Gentry says, balance is key for couples who want a safe space to work through their issues. Here at AFI, we balance compassion for our clients while also calling them to responsibility. It is precisely this balance that can help a couple get back on track.

Written by Danielle Vabner, Undergraduate Volunteer 

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