3 Creative Things to Try Before Going to Couples Counseling

Couple holding hands by oceanIt’s been well-documented—both in pop culture and in the empirical community—the incidence of partnerships turning to relationship counseling as a last resort to save the relationship. Time and again, couples hold out until one or both sees no other option than to (gulp) ask for help from (wince) a professional!

Given this trend, we helping professionals can continue the Herculean quest of influencing the willingness of couples to do their work earlier in the scope of a relationship, and/or we can offer support for those playing out the traditional trajectory. This article playfully addresses the former.

What follows are three not-so-common strategies for people in relationships to employ before seeking counseling support.

  1. Bring your idol to the fight: Try imagining a person in your life (alive or otherwise) whom you respect greatly for his/her relationship maturity. The next time you feel conflict coming on with your partner, imagine this respected person being present for everything you are about to do and say. How do you want to be seen? What feedback/coaching might this person give you in the moment?
  2. Vow of silence: This one involves teamwork, so trust yourself to know if you and your partner are in a place to get on board together. This exercise asks you both to commit to a certain time period of intentional silence. Could be an hour, could be a day or longer—it’s up to you to decide together. During this time, you each commit to your own attunement to yourselves and to each other. What do I mean by attunement? Attunement is the ability to feel into our own present experience while also contacting that of another. Parents naturally attune a little better to their kids, for instance, as can coaches to their athletes, teachers to their students, and, hopefully, partners to each other! Often, in relationships I work with, resentment and disconnect happen as a result of diminished attunement between partners. Attunement can happen in the same room or in two different time zones, depending on the people and the relationship, so you don’t need to be physically proximal as much as really just focusing on being present with yourself and curious about your partner. When your agreed-upon silent time has ended, allow for some time to share your experiences, ask questions, and explore intuitions you may have had. If you’ve taken it that far, maybe discuss what you can apply to your relationship moving forward from this learning.
  3. Relationship goal-setting: When was the last time you reconnected with your truest intentions for being in a relationship? What did you learn? Take some time to evaluate—at this point—what you are hoping to gain from being in your current relationship. Ideally, this exercise would involve identifying some universal needs/values, like intimacy, connection, transformation, companionship, etc., and could also include goals such as, “I want to share my life,” “I want to build a family,” or “I want to be happy.” Reflect on how true these goals/values feel for you today. If they are still spot-on in your life, how are you progressing toward them in this relationship? Hopefully, you and your partner can do this together, to collaborate and consider what this means moving forward for you both. As an alternative, each of you could write down what you think are the other’s relationship goals, then compare with each other and see what comes of that!

So, before you scroll the GoodTherapy.org directory or ask your friend for a referral, try one or more of these out and see what happens. Maybe you both have some juice for the relationship and you just need some guidance (who doesn’t?), or maybe you will discover some clarity for decisions ahead. Whether it’s with a counselor or not, engaging in proactive relationship work is there for the taking, so go for it!

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jesse Johnson, MA, LPC, Relationships and Marriage Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Chelsea

    October 21st, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    I do think that the vow of silence to practice could be a good thing but at the same time I think that you have to know that it can’t be done out of anger, just in a way that leaves you hoping for repairing.

    It can be good to just be quiet and NOT talk about things until you have a chance to cool off a little and then re approach the conversation.

  • Carlette

    October 21st, 2014 at 2:47 PM

    I might have to bring the spirit of Oprah with me the next time that my husband and I argue. She seems to be so calm and collected which is what I want to be in those times but never can find the strength to feel that I am. Maybe if I pretend that O is right there with me, I can make it happen. He will wonder what on earth has happened to me!

  • joey

    October 22nd, 2014 at 3:51 AM

    If the couple is already good at setting goals then they don’t need a counselor.
    Working with a good marriage counselor will help the two of you work together to establish those goals that together the two of you wnat to work with.
    And hopefully this will be in a setting that feels neutral and non threatening to both of you.

  • Ms Smith

    October 22nd, 2014 at 3:48 PM

    I wrote my husband a long note telling him everything that I was unhappy about in our marriage and the things that I thought that he amd I could do better to make the relationship stronger.

    I think that he was a little taken by surprise but I also think that me laying it all out there for him in black and white also let him see that I was taking a stand and that I was unhappy with how things were. I don’t think that it was until he got that letter from me that he understood just how hurt and disappointed that I was and that he saw that we had to get started right them if we ever wanted things to be right between us. The letter is what finally got him to agree to go to counseling with me.

  • Jonathan

    October 23rd, 2014 at 3:39 PM

    Let me pose a question here:
    why are you going to try all of these things if you knwo for certain that you are going to wind up going to couples counseling anyway? These are things that you should have tried before you made the decisions that this was what you were planning on doing.

  • Maisy

    October 24th, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    My husband was actually the one who suggested that we go for marital counseling and luckily I agreed with him. It has made talking so much easier for the two of us as I am not afraid to speak my mind in front of her like I might be if it was just the two of us. With her I know that we would be forced to clarify our thoughts so that neither of us is leaving with no kind of misunderstanding of the other. It has been a great experience for both of us I have to say.

  • don

    October 25th, 2014 at 1:51 PM

    All of these are great and all, but don’t you think that there are too many couples who already wait too long befor going to a counselor to begin with? I think that more things kind of set them back instead of get them moving forward again and I would hope that taking the time to do some of these things would not impede their progress. I do think that they could all be very valuable tools, but if they are used at the right time, and I am not sure for me if right before you get ready to see a marital counselor would be the time to try them. It would seem that these could be things that you are trying all along.

  • Dirk

    October 26th, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    I am not sure that I have ever understood what people find to be intimidating about trying out counseling? For me it is a no brainer. You are having problems so you seek out an expert who might have the skills that you don’t to work things out.

  • Delores

    June 18th, 2015 at 3:10 PM

    Thanks for sharing this advice on strengthening your relationship. These are some great ideas that I have never even thought of before! The “vow of silence” might be a good thing for my husband and me to try– I definitely want us both to be more attuned to ourselves. In fact, I think we’ll try it for an hour this next Sunday and see if it works.

  • Deanna R. Jones, RSW

    July 9th, 2015 at 11:14 AM

    These seem like great things to try before my husband and I go into couples counseling in a few weeks. I think that the “vow of silence” exercise would be really great for us to do. It seems like it would be good for both of us to tune into what we’re feeling separately and together without saying anything. That would be a good practice for us to do to help us feel more mindful of our own thoughts and feelings when we’re around each other.

  • Lily d

    September 17th, 2015 at 1:22 PM

    Great post, Jesse! I’m glad that I stumbled upon your post because I’ve been thinking about going to couples counseling with my husband. I think you’re absolutely right: it’s important to consider whether or not silence during the meeting would be beneficial for you. I’ll be sure to follow your suggestion by asking a friend for a referral about who they see. Thanks for the great tips; they’ve been very helpful!

  • Breck Lewis

    October 14th, 2015 at 7:53 AM

    Vow of silence is a very interesting concept to try, especially with your partner. I think that will really help build more trust between each other. The other tips are really great to try before going to counseling because it’s a bigger accomplishment if you can do it on your own. My wife and I just started counseling and I really don’t like telling strangers about my personal problems. Thanks for posting this great article, it’s helped me out a tons!

  • Ian Johanson

    October 14th, 2015 at 10:23 AM

    I like how you said to imagine a trusted an respected person is with you before fighting. Most of my problems are caused by not thinking before I speak. Imagining someone else is there will help me slow down. I will try this, but I’m still thinking that counseling is the best option for me.

  • siaosi

    May 31st, 2016 at 5:56 AM

    I do not think that the vow of silence would be a good thing for me and my wife. I love to talk things out. When something happens, I immediately try and fix it. I try continually to keep the communication. s

  • Jack M

    June 28th, 2016 at 10:04 AM

    I think it’s a great idea to do some relationship goal setting. I know our married life has been a little crazy lately and I bet we could benefit from sitting down and talking about our goals and how we want to get there. My wife has a lot of potential and I want her to succeed so it’s important to know what she is striving for. I like this idea and I’ll definitely be trying this soon. Thanks for the advice!

  • Teresa w

    March 7th, 2017 at 9:40 AM

    Fantastic Blog! I agree completely with you here. It is a very valuable and helpful collection of blogs. I am trying to gain information from all these. Really helpful post. Thank you..!!

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