Couples counseling has some dynamics that are unique and can be different than marriage counseling. It generally falls into two categories of help. The first area of help is for those dating or engaged and working toward a possible marriage. The second is for couples in a relationship that never intends to formalize their relationship into a marriage.
One reason to pursue couples counseling is if you’re dating relationship is going really well and you want pre-marital counseling to make sure that the partner you have is going to make a great spouse one day. Or, maybe you’re struggling in your dating relationship and not sure how to make it better or whether you even want to. The reality is that “happily ever after” is the result of continued investment in personal growth and relational connection. It is not an automatic outcome just because you really love the other person. So whether you are doing well in your relationship or struggling, couples counseling can prepare you for success when you do make the commitment of marriage.
Some couples choose to live together with no intention of ever getting married. It may be for convenience, economics, fear of divorce, or that they don’t believe in marriage. Unfortunately, statistics show that couples who live together and choose not to get married have a 49% chance of breaking up within 5 years as compared to 20% of married couples. At the ten year mark, 33% of married couples had ended their relationship compared to a staggering 62% for cohabitation. Partnering with someone in an ongoing relationship is always a challenge, but those who choose not to marry their partner are going to need some extra help in making their relationship successful.
So whether couples intend to live together or to get married, couples counseling can greatly improve the chances or happiness and success in the relationship in the following two ways.
With a first marriage divorce rate of about 60% in Orange County and an even higher failure rate for cohabitating couples, the majority of couples choose their partners with high hopes and good intention, but fatally under-prepared. I know I’ve had a few eye-openers in my own marriage that highlighted growth areas that I wasn’t aware of, and I’m married to another psychologist! It’s hard to know what you don’t know and couples counseling can show you the fundamentals that will make a relationship thrive.
For example, often couples evaluate the future of a relationship based on how much they have in common. They will look at their beliefs around money, family, lifestyle, parenting, spirituality, and sex to pick a partner. While I agree that it’s easier when more of those beliefs line up, it’s still not the most important part. More important is how successful a couple is at working through differences in a way that maintains the connection and trust in the relationship. Problems are the catalyst for the potential of increased trust and closeness in a couple’s relationship, but only if the problems are used to gain a deeper understanding and value of one another. In other words, problems are only problems when they leave a couple feeling less sure of each other and the connection.
So many couples come to me asking for “communication tools.” When we talk a little more, I find that they are tremendous communicators. But, those skills fall to the wayside when they get triggered by their partner. Most couples know more about what makes for a successful relationship than they actually put into practice. This is where “couples counseling” then becomes “couples therapy.” Counseling helps equip people for success by teaching them what they don’t yet know. Couples therapy helps couples work through internal blocks that get in the way of doing what they already know.
Chances are if you’re reading this, your relationship could use some help. Whether it’s a crisis issue or just a little guidance in making the relationship better, couples counseling can help take your relationship to the next level. By increasing the trust and connection of the relationship, it can also prepare you to handle the bumps and struggles of life in a way that actually brings you closer.