Understanding Couples Counseling in 3 Easy Steps
1. Couples therapy can only work if there is one condition present from early on: both members of the couple must be primarily motivated by love and a desire to do better. If one or both members of the couple is mostly interested in using the other as a trash can into which they can dump all of their troubles, then there isn't a basis of a good relationship to build on. Each member of the couple must become dedicated to working constructively in each session—and to do their best to contain their destructive impulses.
2. The primary task of the therapist is to help each member of the couple understand his or her own, unique contribution to the problems in the relationship. Just like it takes two to tango, each member of the couple plays his or her part in the relationship's troubles. While the therapist cannot take one person's side over the other, she must have the courage to point out the troubles in each person so that they can change for the better. As one of my mentors says, the therapist must be neutral like Switzerland—not on anybody's side but on everybody's side.
3. The primary task of the couple is to take a good hard look at themselves. It is so common for each member of a couple in conflict to put the blame onto their partner while defending themselves as a model citizen in the relationship. Defensiveness and projection of blame are deadly to couples therapy. In order to succeed, each member must be open to looking in the mirror and dedicated to making changes in themselves.
Undoubtedly, different therapists will have different views about how to enhance the effectiveness of couples therapy. For me, these basic guidelines pave the way for members of the couple to become better listeners, to improve their communication, to decrease destructive ways of interacting, and to learn more positive ways of supporting and loving one another. Couples need a therapist who has the courage to get involved and help sort things out. It is hard work—but can be good work—for every one involved.
Modified text from: Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D.