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Successful Couples Therapy Recognizes the Relationship, Not the Couple

Happy older couple with therapist

If a couple hasn’t actually seen a professional relationship counselor, the partners have probably gone the route of informal counseling at one time or another. Perhaps they have read self-help books or talked to their friends, family members, or co-workers about their relationship problems. Some may have sought out spiritual or religious counseling as a method for improving their problems. According to Texas marriage therapist Pat Love, finding the right counselor is an essential first step to successful couples counseling.

Love and other experts believe that although therapists with individual counseling practices may also offer marriage counseling, unless they have undergone the coursework involved in couples’ therapy, they may be approaching marriage counseling in the same way that they approach individual counseling. Couples’ therapy is very different, however, and should be treated as such. Rather than focusing on childhood history or the unconscious motivations of each partner, skilled marriage therapists are trained to see that the partners are not the clients; the client is the relationship system itself.

Marriage therapy can be an extremely volatile experience and couples often come to therapy emotionally raw, bruised, and battered. There is usually quite a bit of anger and resentment. It is not the therapist’s role to assign blame or side with one partner over the other. Experts agree that the role of the therapist is to treat the relationship system in order to heal it and, ultimately, heal the couple within that system. Love says, “If you don’t pay attention to the system, one person will feel betrayed, left out, reactive, and not [wanting] to come back to therapy.” In order to find a marriage therapist who approaches therapy this way, look for one who takes a neutral position and doesn’t allow for tempers to flare and insults to fly. Trained, experienced marriage therapists will encourage honest exploration of emotions and will provide action steps that can be taken to improve difficult situations. Above all else, the right therapist will be one that doesn’t dictate the future of the relationship, but rather will let couples come to that decision on their own by uncovering what lies beneath the hurts and hostilities.

Elejalde-Ruiz, Alexia. (2013). Marriage counseling: Saving, or sabotaging, a marriage. Chicago Tribune (n.d.): n. pag. Web. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-04-09/features/sc-fam-0409-marriage-counselor-20130409_1_couples-therapy-relationship-counseling

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  • reyna h April 19th, 2013 at 11:59 PM #1

    oh I can imagine how it must be to counsel a couple.have had a sit-down talk with a couple friend when they were having problems and boy was it difficult.while there was certainly a little more “leaning” towards the wife,I tried my best to remain neutral.I can only imagine what a professional would need to handle it appropriately.

    it is important that the counselor gives similar attention and time to each partner and the point of giving the relationship itself the highest importance is very good.that way the counselor can concentrate on the problem rather than deciding which of the partners is less wrong and then having a leaning toward him or her.a tough job and a commendable one at that.cheers to all the counselor out there!

  • trent j April 20th, 2013 at 5:34 AM #2

    Interesting point, and one way of looking at things that I have never thought about. I think that we often get pretty caught up in what a “couple” should look like over what a relationship should actually look like. Kudos for those therapists who are making those distinctions and at the same time helping couples see those too.

  • A russell April 20th, 2013 at 11:33 PM #3

    my wife and I approached a counselor when we had some trouble in our marriage.although we wanted couples counseling all he had to offer was individual counseling sessions and taking inputs from each of us without actually sitting down with both of us together to discuss.we stopped visiting him and althought things did work out good for us I think it would be far more helpful if we had gone to a specialist who really knew couples counseling.very important for the therapist to know what he is doing.

  • angela d. April 22nd, 2013 at 3:55 AM #4

    It must be hard work to separate the individuals and focus instead on the relationship as a whole. I am not sure that I would ever have the ability to separate those two things, to look past the individual personalities to see how those have merged together to create this relationship dynamic that is currently in trouble. I am not sure that evry couple entering into therapy would see that this is the best thing, to work on healing the system over each individual gripe that each person has. But I get it that in order to make each person in the marriage feel strong and secure you first need to create a relationship that is steady and meaningful on its own.

  • A.S April 22nd, 2013 at 1:09 PM #5

    when there is trouble in your marriage the last thing you wanna be doing is to go looking for a therapist and then be uncertain whether both partners are really in sync with this. Making decisions at that time can exhaust you and leave you unsatisfied.

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