When you hear the words “couples therapy,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Perhaps you envision a couple at odds with each other, sitting on a couch talking to a marriage counselor. That may be what marriage counseling typically looks like, but did you know that there are several different techniques?
The number one thing you should do when considering couples therapy is finding a good marriage counselor. Each marriage counselor is different, and each marriage is different, so finding a match is important. A good marriage counselor will have experience in helping couples through their issues, and they will know the different techniques or methods that can be used effectively.
There are many techniques/methods/approaches to couples therapy. Learning about each of them can be beneficial as you go through couples therapy.
Here are a few of them:
Emotionally focused couples therapy
This therapy technique was developed by Dr. Susan Johnson and Les Greenberg. As the name indicates, emotions play a key role here. It is quite effective and is used all over the world. It is especially helpful if depression is part of the issue of the relationship.
The method uses the attachment theory, or idea that as humans we want to be bonded together. But issues can arise and cycle into negativity. This type of therapy helps couples overcome those negative emotions and strengthen their bond.
Along the vein of emotions, this method of therapy focuses on positive feelings. Really, for some it is a big change in perspective, which then can change thoughts and behaviors, which can then improve the relationship. In positive psychology, you learn to enjoy happiness as it happens and focus on joy in the moment. This helps couples to realize the happy times they do have currently, and then they can build on that. Writing in a journal and sharing it with the therapist is an important aspect of this method.
The Gottman method
With 30 years behind it, many believe it has proven itself as an effective couples therapy method. If you and your spouse feel really stuck and can’t seem to agree, this may be a good method for your relationship. The method helps you understand each other as you communicate calmly.
It utilizes something called “love maps” which is something you build. It helps you both learn about each other as you discover the things that stress them, make them happy, etc. Overall, the Gottman method focuses on conflict management, with honesty at the heart of it.
If you are part of a religious group, see what kinds of counseling is available through your church. Since your religion is a big factor in your marriage, this type of counseling could prove helpful for you. You may also feel more comfortable in this type of setting, which can help set the stage for healing. Methods vary, but typically religious-based therapy calls upon spiritual aspects that you probably already believe and live in order to help you work through issues.
If one of the spouses isn’t able or willing to do couples therapy, then the willing and able partner should definitely consider going for it alone. A therapist can help the one partner work through issues on their end. Obviously, if the other person is unwilling to work through the issue, then the relationship may not be able to move forward. However, in the process of some going to individual counseling, sometimes the other spouse slowly warms to the idea and then later joins their spouse for couples therapy.
Narrative means story, and actually that is part of this method of couples therapy. You will tell the story and create the “narrative” of what is happening. But then, you will work together to rewrite the unpleasant parts of the story. The nice thing about this technique is it helps the couple separate themselves from the story, recognizing that the story doesn’t define you as people. It also teaches that the story is changeable. You both can rewrite your future story together.
Imago relationship therapy
Developed by Harville Hendrix and Helen Lakelly Hunt, this type of therapy focuses a lot on spiritual and behavioral aspects. Imago is the Latin word for “image,” and this type of therapy tries to help couples realize how their brains work and see the unconscious ways they live. Basically, the method says that we choose partners who can heal what is lacking from our childhood, and those wounds will be repeated with our spouse. In this technique, couples learn to work together and communicate through issues.
This type of therapy is especially helpful when partners react in irrational patterns, which are believed to be born of life events and experiences in childhood. For example, if abuse was part of a person’s past, they can lead to jealousy even if there is no reason for it. In this type of therapy, a counselor will help you focus on the root of the issue, which is sometimes unconscious and is an individual or couple problem. They will then help you realize a more realistic view of past events that are shaping current behaviors.
Developed by Bill Doherty, at the University of Minnesota, this type of counseling is especially for couples where one spouse is learning towards divorce and the other is not. It helps them figure out what each person wants, and if the relationship is salvageable. Rather than solving the issues, it looks at whether solving is actually possible. It is typically a short term method.
Marriage therapy is a good option for those couples looking to work out their differences with the help of a trained counselor. There are many different approaches, and the method will depend on the marriage counselor as well as the issues happening in the couple’s relationship. That’s why it’s always important to choose a good marriage counselor you both feel comfortable with and can trust.