What Happens in Relationship Therapy?

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healing wordsPeople often wonder what happens when a couple goes for relationship counseling. Sometimes one partner wants to seek help, while the other is resistant. Typically, it is the woman who encourages counseling, because women are used to discussing things with their friends, and do not find it odd to think of talking about their issues with a professional. Some people, male or female, do not like the idea of dealing with their problems with a third party. The feeling is, “we can solve it ourselves,” however, if that were true, the problem would be gone.

A professional psychologist is trained to assist couples with many aspects of relationship, whether the issue is communication, trust, intimacy, time spent together, or problem solving and conflict management. It can be helpful to have an objective third party to assist the couple, because someone outside the situation sees things those who are directly involved may not. Further, sometimes couples do not get very far when trying to resolve a problem, because they fall into an old pattern of judging, criticizing and blaming, which usually ends in a fight.

The role of the psychologist is to clarify the issues, and assist the partners in really understanding the feelings and point of view of the other. The next step is to help the couple to find ways to solve the problems in ways that leave both partners feeling heard and understood.

Ideally the couple can transcend the issues, and move on with a “win-win” solution.

Sometimes situations are very difficult and complex, and the “win-win” is not so feasible.

If one of the partners is doing something that is destructive or dishonoring of the relationship, that behavior has to be modified if the relationship is to continue. This is when the therapist can become unpopular with one of the partners. Sometimes an individual will even bail out of the therapy process, because the therapist has given a straight message he or she does not like.

For the most part though, a reasonable individual will figure out that if the therapist is taking a stand on a particular issue, perhaps there is a good reason. It is not a matter of who is “right” and who is “wrong”, nor is it a question of the therapist taking sides, although the some individuals may perceive it that way if their point of view is not supported.

Psychologists want things to work out for their clients. They want to see couples happy, and their first choice is to keep families together. However, the health and wellbeing of every individual in the situation is the highest priority. There is no sense in keeping a couple or family together, if one or more individuals are genuinely suffering, or at risk. Thus, a psychologist will try to get the couple to “fix” what is dysfunctional, or to get individuals to modify behaviors that are sabotaging the health of the relationship.

If couples are open to learning, they will virtually always come away from a therapy session with some valuable insights. If these insights help to make their relationship stronger, then the primary goal has been accomplished. If the couple cannot make the relationship work, then at least they have new tools to apply in future relationships.