People generally seek counseling because they are experiencing some kind of distress that has become intolerable and they are looking for help to resolve the issues that are connected to their discomfort or pain. When they are experiencing conflict, disconnection or emotional pain in their most important relationships they often find it unbearable and seek professional help to improve their relationships and remedy the issues so they can feel good and whole again. The following are some of the most common themes that couples bring to counseling and the ways a professional therapist can help address them.
- Communication: missed signals
Most couples experience miscommunication to varying degrees in their relationships. When it becomes problematic is when messages are filtered through our life’s experience as well as our partner’s and the true content often gets lost in misunderstanding or missed signals. A couple’s counselor can help couples stay grounded in those critical moments while they use both their logic and their emotion to better communicate and problem solve.
Intimacy has a huge impact on relationships. Couples need physical and emotional connection. Humans have an innate need to feel desired by their partner. There are many common reasons couples struggle with sexual issues ranging from biological issues, emotional issues, relationship issues, past sexual trauma history, trust issues, cultural issues and more. However, couples sense how important intimacy is to their relationship as well as how much it impacts their lives. A couple’s counselor can offer a safe, healthy place to not only discuss these issues in an authentic way, but to help the couple move toward a more mutually satisfying intimate relationship.
- Addiction: your problem v. our problem
It seems that addictive behaviors are more prevalent than ever, ranging from a variety of categories from substance abuse to behavioral addictions such as porn, gambling, compulsive eating or “workaholics.” As a result, addiction is one of the more common reasons that couples seek professional help. Historically, the addict was sent alone to some sort of therapy and/or intense rehabilitation program leaving each partner’s alone in their struggle to make meaning of the destructive cycle. In more recent years addiction specialists have recognized the need to promote growth and healing and support for both the addict and their partner. Ideally, a couples’ counselor can help each partner better understand the addiction cycle and the role their relationship plays in either fostering or breaking the cycle of addiction.
Infidelity is a big reason couples seek help. Recovering from an affair or even deciding whether or not to try and make the relationship work after a betrayal is complicated. A skilled couples’ counselor can help the couple navigate painful feelings of betrayal, damaged trust, guilt and shame while examining and addressing the weak spots that may have contributed to the infidelity.
- Mental Health Issues
Common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety not only affect our daily functioning but also interfere with how we relate to one another. Other mental health issues, such as ADD, bipolar disorder, adjustment disorders, borderline and narcissistic traits, and trauma can also interfere with a couple’s ability to maintain a healthy relationship. Working with a couples’ counselor can help individual partners begin to separate themselves from their own mental health issues and those of their partner while helping them better understand how these issues show up in their lives and in their relationship.
- Grief and Loss
Loss is something we all face and comes in many forms, a miscarriage, death of a child or parent, or loss of a loved one through other means such as physical separation. Not only can the loss itself be devastating to a couple’s relationship, but the often very different manners in which partners express their grief. A sensitive couples’ counselor can walk alongside a couple as they work through their grief, helping them to draw strength from one another rather than feeling isolated and alone in their grief.
- Divorce, Remarriage & Blended Families
After a painful divorce or break-up many couple’s seek couple’s counseling before committing or once they have committed to a new relationship. They may feel vulnerable to the higher divorce rates for second marriages or be concerned about how the challenges and pain of their prior relationship might follow them into the next. Couples with children may seek couple’s counseling to navigate the complicated waters of blending a family. Experienced couples’ counselors can help couples make a smoother transition while overcoming past and present obstacles that threaten their new relationship.
- Life Transitions
Change is always going to be a part of life, but when it is dramatic or abrupt like starting a family or becoming empty nesters it can have a tremendous impact on a couple. Retirement and other career changes, buying or selling a home and the stress of relocating, fluctuations in health and physical abilities can all affect relationships. Couples counselors can help couples work through transitions more smoothly as they identify and set reasonable expectations of themselves and their partner.
- Parenting, Money & Other Power Struggles
When couples struggle over hot topics such as parenting or money it often escalates into a power struggle or conflict. While on the surface it appears that partners are in opposition in such matters, in reality they often have much more common ground than they realize. Couples counselors can assist parents in discovering their overarching common goals that allow them greater freedom to cooperate with rather than compete against one another.
- Family of Origin/Extended Family Issues (Boundaries)
Unfortunately, in-laws and/or family of origin issues can often contribute to relationship problems, especially when dealing with a dysfunctional family system. Couples may stress or contend over how involved their extended family members should be in their lives. A competent couples’ counselor can help partners identify and develop skills such as setting and maintaining healthy boundaries.
- We’ve Lost that Loving Feeling (Disconnection)
Couples’ counselors often hear couples describe their relationship in terms of “falling out of love” or simply “cohabitating more like roommates or friends than lovers”. Counseling is a great way to help couples who are experiencing disconnection feel more attached and bonded to help them rekindle some of their spark.
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