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How Does Relationship Counseling Work?

Couples go to relationship or marriage counseling for different reasons. Often, they seek counseling as what they feel is a last resort for the survival of their relationship because they are not getting along and don’t know how to change the situation; one or both partners feel that they won’t be able to stay together if circumstances don’t improve.

Other couples choose to go to counseling sessions as a proactive rather than a reactive step — they don’t feel like they’re having problems, but they would like to improve the relationship skills that will best keep things that way. Still other couples receive counseling as voluntary or required preparation for getting married.

Relationship Skill-Building

If a medical professional conducts your counseling, it should be a trained and certified psychotherapist who specializes in relationship issues. If you have come to relationship counseling not to build upon a strong existing bond but to try and salvage a damaged one, then during some sessions, the therapist might say relatively little, acting mostly as a mediator for any arguments that arise as a result of you and your partner expressing your concerns, complaints and frustrations.

Online Relationship-Counseling Resources

If you and your partner would like to find a relationship counselor, you should ask your family doctor for a referral or recommendation. Alternatively, there are online directories of therapists who specialize in relationship issues, such as:

Psychology Today Therapists Directory: Choose your geographical area in the U.S. or Canada, and then from the Refine Your Search column on the left-hand side of the webpage, select Relationship Issues.

GoodTherapy.org: Directory of select marriage counselors in the U.S. and Canada. You can also search all therapist listings by state/province/territory.

During other sessions, the therapist will work more intensely with you to analyze the positive and negative aspects of your relationship, and to strengthen the skills that can best help you improve your relationship — skills like active listening and other communication techniques, problem-solving and conflict-resolution.

Based on the therapist’s assessment of your particular issues, other specific types of therapy, such as anger management, substance abuse treatment or sexual counseling, might be incorporated. These additional forms of counseling may or may not be conducted by your primary therapist, and they may be recommended as individual rather than couple’s counseling.

Family Counseling

If you and your partner are having serious troubles and there are children in your home, then you are not the only ones, and yours is not the only relationship, being negatively affected. Family counseling in addition to couple’s counseling can be a good idea in these cases because it addresses the family dynamic as a whole, and the hurts and needs of all family members.

Pre-Marital Counseling

Engaged couples often attend counseling sessions prior to getting married. Pre-marital relationship counseling seeks to ensure that the partners truly know each other well, share complementary values and plans for the future, and have a good understanding of how the other person views the commitment of marriage. Like other secular relationship counseling, your sessions will be led by a mental health care professional — a certified relationship counselor or psychotherapist.

Faith-based approaches, on the other hand, such as Jewish or Christian relationship counseling, are usually conducted by a rabbi, minister, priest or other religious leader rather than by a licensed therapist. In some cases, counseling is a mandatory cultural and/or religious prerequisite before the couple can be married, or before the officiant will consent to marry them.

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