Tools for Couples Happiness — 23 October 2006
Why and how to choose couple therapy

Unhappy couples are often encouraged to seek professional help. Many who would seek medical care avoid marital help and may end up unnecessarily heading toward divorce.

There are many reasons cited by couples who dismiss counseling as a viable option to curing their ailing relationship.

Some say that couple counseling does not work. They may have known pairs who did not succeed in counseling and thus assume that this may be their fate as well. Why undertake an unproven course?

It is true that some couples do not benefit from couple’s therapy. They may fall into one of these more common scenarios:

• Those who have already given up on themselves and their union and lost hope for change sometimes come to therapy to convince themselves that they tried it all. They set it up to not benefit from treatment.
• When one partner rigidly holds on to the belief that the other mate is solely responsible for the relationship failure due to unchangeable faulty character, the chances for counseling success are very low.

• Partners who are dealing with infidelity of one of the mates who is unwilling to terminate the extra marital relationship or has a secret involvement with a third party – are doomed from the start.
• Pairs who struggle with untreated addiction, abuse or violence must first clear these issues prior to attempting relationship work.

Some couples resist therapy because they view seeking help about their union as an admission of failure. They may feel shame or worry about divulging personal traits, afraid to be at fault, reluctant to expose their intimate life to a stranger, or fear being labeled as weak or mentally unhealthy.

These concerns are understandable especially in view of the less than ideal public service and educational information about counseling. The mental health field has not done enough to educate the public about the benefits of professional help for people in committed relationships. The educational system does not offer children relationship tools and an understanding of loving behaviors. And the public still holds to old- fashioned misconceptions about the need for counseling as evidence of mental impairment.

Actually, every couple could benefit from learning better ways to improve their relationship. Couple therapy is an education about one’s personality and the ways in which two people can become more loving, connected, intimate and happy. Availing yourself to intimacy education is a life enhancing privilege.

Other people are reluctant to enter couple therapy because they do not know how to select a good therapist. Choosing an experienced and able therapist is an important factor in securing the couples success in achieving their objectives. Selecting a therapist is similar to the process of finding a good family physician: references, reputation, specialized training and recommendations all play a pivotal role in a good choice. But, best of all is the couple’s experience with the therapist and their joint assessment of him/her after the first session.

Since couple therapy involves learning new skills, the therapist should teach and provide tools in addition to support. The partners are consumers who should be satisfied with the service they receive. The belief that couples do not know what serves them best in couple therapy because the therapist is the “all knowing” professional – is a harmful myth. Couples are in charge of their goals, agenda and process and the therapist is the teaching facilitator of the change they desire.

• If the idea of couple’s counseling occurs to either one of you, or is suggested by others, it is probably a wise option and can be a blessing.
• You need to see it as seeking education in self-awareness, understanding each other and learning new ways to live better -rather than a sign of deficiency.
• If you are willing to share the responsibility of the difficulties and work toward their resolution, are positive, hopeful and secret-free, your chances for counseling success are good.
• Ask your physician and friends for recommendations for a good couple therapist. Trust your assessment of the therapist after the first session. Interview a few counselors and select the one who feels most comfortable and competent.
• Every visit should leave you with new insights, tools, and practices for a better relationship. Apply yourself and within six sessions you should notice a change for the better based on lasting skills.
• There is nothing more emotionally rewarding than being skilled in achieving and maintaining a deeper intimacy in your relationship.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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