Previously, we looked at ways to build a strong relationship with your partner. Yet even strong couples, who practice all the best approaches, can sometimes benefit from the help that a couples counselor provides. When looking for a counselor, keep these ten qualities in mind to make your experience more productive. A good couples therapist:
1. Meets you where you are
Couples attend counseling for many reasons: to start their relationship off right, to maintain the relationship, or to strengthen it. Other couples attend counseling when they have reached a real impasse and require more support to improve the relationship. Whatever your reason for seeking therapy, a quality couples counselor will meet you wherever you are to address your particular relationship needs.
2. Helps you to set goals
When you start therapy, you may be coming in with certain concerns you’d like to address and a good couples therapist will help you to set goals for the work you will all do together. These goals will usually represent what you and your partner want to achieve during treatment, such as improving communication, and will serve as a kind of road map for the therapy work. They will help make each session as productive as possible by providing structure and direction.
3. Helps you to revisit goals
As you work through couples therapy, you will hopefully accomplish the goals you set out with. A good couples therapist will help you revisit your goals to see where you have been, where you are currently, and where you still want to go. This will ensure that the therapy remains productive. It also provides an opportunity to revise goals as you make improvements and identify areas for continued growth.
4. Helps bring focus back to the goals
While in couples counseling, you might uncover past hurts and conflicts, and you and your partner may both experience and express strong emotions. Couples counseling works best when these things are discussed within the context of your stated goals and when the focus remains on moving forward towards these goals. Rather than lingering on the past or present emotions, this time can be used to keep your relationship moving forward. A good couples counselor will ask how content fits within your goals to help maintain that focus.
5. Asks lots of questions
When you attend couples counseling, you could end up carrying on the same discussions (and arguments), simply in a different setting. A skilled couples counselor will help to change the dialogue. They will ask questions to help each partner make discoveries about themselves and the relationship. This can help to resolve old conflicts and patterns so you can move forward to new discussions.
6. Helps you develop new skills
Couples usually go to counseling because they want to improve their relationship. Often, this process will involve new skills and techniques to help with communication, decision-making, and planning. One important ingredient in couples counseling is a therapist who will teach you new skills, someone who will help you to learn and practice them in session and then ask you to try them out in your daily life. They will check in to see how the new tools are working and help you turn them into habits.
7. Helps you learn to solve your own problems
Most couples who start counseling do not plan to be there forever and a good couples counselor, as ironic as it seems, knows that as they work with you, they will eventually put themselves out of a job. A good counselor will equip you with strategies and confidence to successfully communicate and work through any problems your relationship may face. This allows you to eventually leave therapy equipped with the tools you need to maintain a good relationship.
8. Helps to maintain an atmosphere of respect
Sometimes when couples enter counseling it is because their relationship has reached a point of difficult and even hurtful interaction. Occasionally one or both partners may be at a point where they are so unhappy that they fling hurtful comments or display contempt towards their partner. These behaviors are not helpful and will only worsen the state of the relationship. A good couples counselor will help to maintain respect in the therapy room and help you to translate that attitude into daily life.
9. Gives equal time to each partner
You can imagine that it might be challenging for a couples counselor to make sure that each partner has equal time and space in the session, but it is important that things are kept fairly equal. A skilled therapist will maintain the balance and check in with each partner during the session to ensure that they feel heard. They will also be impartial to the two parties and avoid taking sides.
10. Accepting of your relationship values
Like any other person, therapists possess their own set of values and have varying cultural beliefs and backgrounds. During their education and training, they learn to understand many other values apart from their own and develop an ability to see the world through other value systems. They learn to set aside and not impose their own set of beliefs on others. When you attend couples counseling, an important ingredient is being able to feel safe and accepted.
In most instances, the right couples counselor will understand and affirm your relationship values (including same sex couples or polyamorous relationships). Exceptions to this would include relationships with abuse or other unhealthy behaviors that might harm one or both individuals. In those circumstances the therapist will works to make the relationship safer for both parties.
As you start looking for the right couples counselor, research online for the options in your area. When it comes time to meet your couples counselor, it is a good idea to ask questions to make sure that they are a good fit for both partners. Your counselor will act as a consultant or guide, they will equip you to work on your relationship even outside of sessions, so you can grow and make positive changes. Establishing a relationship with a therapist can be a rewarding process as you hopefully experience positive impact on your relationship, and we hope this list will serve you well as you begin your search. At Mind Body Seven, Beth Wecksell PsyD works with couples.