As anyone who has ever been or is currently in a relationship will tell you, maintaining the relationship past the initial “honeymoon phase” is not an easy task.
There will be a need for compromise, and you will have to work on truly listening to your partner and finding out what his or her needs are so that you can fulfill them.
Unfortunately, many couples wait until they are on the brink of a breakup or divorce to seek a counselor for couples or marriage therapy.
At that point, it may be too late.
When you begin to notice a difference in your relationship, that is the time to start considering whether couples therapy can reduce the stress those differences are making.
If you see that you and your partner are spending more time away from one another than in the past, getting into more arguments over minor issues, or prioritizing less important things over quality time as a couple, there may be something bubbling underneath.
Don’t wait until you have mastered the art of the silent treatment or your sex life has taken a nosedive to get family and marriage counseling.
There are many couples counselors available who can help you improve your relationship while it can still be saved.
1. Recognize Your Communication Style
You and your partner are likely to have different communication styles. If you can recognize what you are contributing with your own style, you are one step closer to making some advances in communication.
Are you being defensive or critical? Or are you creating a safe space where your partner feels secure and confident about sharing his or her thoughts and feelings?
A relationship counselor can also help you find ways to use your communication styles effectively, especially to prevent arguments.
2.Recognize Your Partner’s Communication Style
Once you’ve accepted that you both have differences in communication styles, use it as an opportunity for growth.
It’s often our differences that make us attracted to each other, and it will be beneficial for the mental health of both partners and the well-being of the relationship if you can use your communication style differences to come closer together.
3. Don’t Keep Score
Remember, relationships are not games to be won. Scorekeeping in a relationship (where no score should exist at all) keeps you from learning what positive changes you can make.
A more optimal strategy is to catch yourself before you engage in behavior that creates distance from one another.
4. It’s Alright to Go to Sleep Angry
The idea of never going to sleep angry prevents you and your partner from practicing good sleep hygiene. It doesn’t mean you have anger management issues or your relationship is doomed.
A good night’s sleep promotes brain health. Get some rest and commit to a time to talk when you are both available.
It’s helpful to allow your partner to process feelings if they require it before resolving conflict.
5. Identify Your Approach to Conflict Management
Learn how to fight better.
Are you trying to get it right, or are you wanting to be right?
Is winning more important than understanding?
Empathy goes a long way and is the bridge to connection. In couples therapy, you can learn strategies for the best way to handle an argument appropriately rather than trying to win it.
6. Be Aware of Life Transitions and Their Impact
Life transitions include a career change, a move, a new baby, sending a child to college, and an empty nest.
The impact is most noticeable in a relationship after the birth of a baby. Focusing on intimacy and romance after a new baby is a challenge.
Postpartum anxiety and depression have an effect on relationships. Relationship counseling with the right therapist can help manage the strain to put you back on the right road.
7. Slow Down Your Speech
A surprise to both you and your partner will be when you slow down your responses and allow each other to be heard.
Develop a communication style that creates safety in the marriage, encourages differentiation, and deepens your understanding of one another.
In couples therapy, you will be surprised to see how simply slowing down and listening can drastically improve relationships.
8. Use Grounding Techniques to Control Breath
A good grounding technique is to sit upright in a chair with feet firmly on the floor and imagine drawing positive energy into your body while taking long slow breaths.
You can count to seven on the inhale, hold, and release your out-breath to the count of fourteen.
9. Practice Self-Care
Self-care is necessary for you to make positive contributions to your relationship. It does not mean becoming a caretaker for your partner.
For example, don’t manage your partner’s weight, diet, addictions, or career. Set good boundaries for yourself and make sure you know your own level of tolerance for unhealthy behaviors in your partner.
It’s ok to set boundaries. What doesn’t work is when you become your partner’s doctor, therapist, teacher, or, worst of all, parent.
10. Resist Problem Solving When a Solution Is Not Necessary
Problem-solving is not always welcome in relationships. You’ll gain more traction in your marriage by listening than you will by problem-solving.
There’s a time and a place for problem-solving, and it should not be a part of your daily experience. Relationship counseling can provide you with techniques and strategies to find a way to listen rather than search for answers.
11. Don’t Be a Fixer
Fight the urge to fix your partner. Focus on what you can change about yourself while being aware of the contributions you are making to the relationship.
During marriage counseling sessions, your therapist will point out when you are fixing your spouse when you should be listening and working to improve yourself.
12.Understand Your Boundaries
Everyone has physical and emotional boundaries. If you have deal breakers like not being with someone who non-consensually hurts you, that is an example of a boundary.
It is critical that you know and understand your boundaries so that you can communicate them to your significant other and you will be open to hearing theirs.
13. Learn to Demonstrate Empathy
Empathy is the capacity to imagine how another might experience whatever it is they are talking about on an emotional level and to attune to their feelings based on what they have said.
This differs from imagining what you would feel in that situation. Members of a couple need to demonstrate empathy to each other to gain deeper insight and understanding in the marriage.
14. Express Validation
Validation is the skill of communicating to another that you can understand the world from their point of view. You can see the sense that their perspective makes, understand their logic, and accept its validity.
It does not mean that you agree and share the same perspective. Some examples of validation in relationships are: “I hear what you’re saying and it matters to me”, “I understand that”, and “that makes sense”.
Understanding and empathy are closely related. Finding a way to attune to your partner’s feelings, facial expressions, tone, and nuances invites them to continue a dialogue with you.
It may require couples therapy with an experienced therapist to help you truly find an emotional connection to your spouse’s feelings.
16. Create Rules Around Conflict
Talk about yourself and use “I” statement. Using “you” statements puts your significant other in a position of defending themselves.
Don’t project your feelings by mind-reading.
Allow them to express what they felt about something or what made them behave the way they did.
Don’t make demands or threats.
Don’t avoid conflict by waiting for that one perfect moment to bring something up.
Ask for a time when you can both talk privately and calmly.
17. Set Time Aside for Important Discussion
Schedule your discussion when you won’t be interrupted. Avoid public spaces to maintain privacy. Do not have important discussions about your marriage in front of anyone else unless you are with a relationship counseling expert.
18. Don’t Drink Alcohol Before an Important Discussion
It’s important to be present, give your relationship the attention it deserves, and plan meaningful discussions before having an alcoholic beverage.
The outcome of your discussion will be negatively impacted by alcohol because it diminishes your ability to process information correctly and can lead to misunderstandings. Schedule the discussion when no one has had any alcohol.
19. Recognize When Your Partner Needs Space
When your partner asks for time and space to process feelings, give it to them. Given the special circumstances of COVID 19, giving space may be a bit more difficult but at least go for a walk around the neighborhood.
You can also simply schedule time to talk at a later date. Make sure you both to return to the time you have put aside and honor the commitment.
20. Respect Differentiation in Your Relationship
Differentiation occurs through the process of dialogue when partners are able to accept that the other has a separate experience and may have perspectives and beliefs that are valid as their own.
Differentiated partners realize that it is only in accepting the differences between them and tolerating the possible tension of the differences that they grow into their true selves and achieve the satisfaction of mature love.
21. Remember, Sex is Not a Spectator Sport
Have personal responsibility for being an intimate sexual team. The keys to sexual desire are positive anticipation and feeling you deserve sexual satisfaction in intimate relationships.
Each person is responsible for their desire with the couple functioning as a team to nurture and enhance desire.
Healthy sexuality plays a positive, integral role in your relationship with the main function to energize your bond and reinforce feelings of desire and desirability.
Rule out sexual problems caused by a medical issue. One common cause of sexual dysfunction is due to side effects of medication.
Speak with your prescribing physician as well as your therapist to find out if a medical condition could be at the root of your issue in your sex life.
22. Power Struggles, Coercion, Anger, Shame, and Criticism Kills Desire in Relationships
Learn better ways to fight so that you don’t get stuck in power struggles. There is no place in relationships for coercion, shame, or criticism.
In the world of psychology today, we understand that anger is normal and valid, but that can’t be your go-to during an argument and then expect the desire to still be present in the marriage.
23. Preaching Decreases Erotic Charge
No one gets turned on when someone is preaching to them about how to run their lives. Spare your spouse that experience and allow for differentiation in your relationship.
You both bring a separate set of beliefs and perspectives to the relationship, and deep connection happens when you allow for differences. Skilled couples counselors can help you use the differences to your advantage.
24. Touch Elicits Desire
Skin to skin touch activates hormones and fires neurotransmitters. Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain during attachment and bonding.
Touching one another – even non-sexually – is a great way to feel connected and bring a dose of eroticism to your daily interaction even if it doesn’t lead to intercourse.
25. Invite Your Significant Other to be Sexual
Anticipation creates desire, but it is difficult to feel anticipation if you are always the one to initiate sex. One partner may initiate sex more than the other, which is normal, and changing things up creates novelty.
For example, initiating sex more often if your significant other usually does the inviting breaks the routine.
26. Fear and Inhibition Diminish Satisfaction
The four components of sexual function are desire, arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction.
Fear and inhibition concerning performance impact all components negatively. Trust and openness create a sexual bond.
If you feel uncomfortable talking about sexual performance, relationship counseling can bring you a safe space to open up as a couple and discuss these fears.
27. Become Cliterate
There are several books on female satisfaction that can help give you a sexual voice and improve your sexual health.
- “She Comes First” by Ian Kerner
- “Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters – And How to Get it” by Laurie Mintz
- and “Come As You Are” by Emily Nagoski
Couples counselors have been recommending these texts to their patients, and they have greatly improved the quality of the love life in the marriage.
28. Don’t Discuss Your Relationship Issues with Family, Friends, or Kids
Family and friends have a harder time forgetting or letting go of the marriage problems that you share with them.
You and your significant other may have repaired an issue and moved on, yet family and friends that you’ve disclosed to have a longer memory.
Don’t burden kids with relationship problems. They always need to be exempt from your couple’s conflicts. When in doubt, couples therapy with an experienced therapist should be your outlet.
29. Ask Your Significant Other for a Scheduled Time to Talk
The worst times to ask to have an important talk are before you start your workday, right after your workday is over, and just before going to sleep.
Your timing will impact how your request for conversation is received. If things get heated it’s time to take a break.
Both of you will benefit from continuing your conversation after a good night’s sleep or a day later to process what you want to say.
If you truly cannot find a time to have this type of conversation, couples counseling can provide that space and time. Couples therapists are trained to help people engage in proactive conversations through therapy that will be beneficial to both of you.
Marriage counseling tends to have a stigma, but it shouldn’t because couples have been able to use the techniques from their therapy sessions to greatly improve the quality of their relationships.
30. Don’t Use Defensiveness
When you are in a conversation with your significant other, try not to get defensive. John Gottman, using the Gottman method, can predict breakups within 90% or greater accuracy when defensiveness (one of the four horsemen) is present in a relationship.
Focus on what you can do in the moment without criticizing, stonewalling, or showing contempt, and check out more about the Gottman method to discover more ways to handle a contentious moment.
31. Share Other Parts of Yourself with Your Significant Other
Sharing other parts of yourself allows you both to release feelings and address an actual problem while finding more positive ways to manage conflict. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable both in and out of marriage counseling sessions.
32. Accept Conflict and Fighting
Conflict and fighting are going to pop up every now and again in any one relationship. Couples need to commit to fighting better, and marriage counseling can show you better techniques for conflict resolution.
Just as the Gottman method advocates for avoiding defensiveness, conflict acceptance, and resolution techniques are also critical.
Imago Relationship Therapy of North America recommends 6 strategies for couples to manage conflict:
- Learn to talk without blame or criticism
- Always fight or argue face-to-face
- Cool down for 30 minutes if it’s getting overheated
- Slow down and take turns talking
- Take care of the conflict as soon as possible
- Consider getting help in couples therapy from an impartial 3rd party.
33. Make a Monogamy Agreement
Tammy Nelson defines monogamy agreements as anything you and your significant other decide is right for you. Basically, a monogamy agreement is about making implicit agreements (the ones you assume each of you knows but you have never talked about) more explicit by creating rules.
Define your boundaries together and clarify your relationship:
- just friends;
- hooking up;
- going out;
- hanging out;
- married in an open relationship
These labels don’t mean the same thing to everyone. Spell it out together and review it when necessary.
34. Rebuild after an Affair
Whether it is emotional or physical, an affair is a painful experience for the betrayed person. It can take quite a long time to forgive the partner who cheated.
Couples have described an affair in their relationship as “death by a thousand cuts”.
Seeking out a counselor for marriage help can be a great start to rebuilding trust and working toward forgiveness.
Many couples turn to marriage counseling after an affair has already occurred, but there were likely warning signs that could have alerted each person that assistance from a licensed marriage therapist was needed.
During marriage counseling sessions, couples therapists work to find the root of the problem so you can work it out before a betrayal occurs and pain can be spared.
35. Find a Skilled Therapist after an Affair
A marriage therapist trained in couples counseling can help you process the intense emotions that come up at this most difficult time. Do not expect that one therapy meeting will solve all of your problems.
Couples counseling takes time and dedication to truly work. That’s one of the main things to remember about marriage counseling: it’s not an immediate fix but good couples therapy, over time, can set you back on the road to happiness.
36. Talk about the Affair
This is the time for full disclosure and transparency. Disclosure comes after the affair is discovered, reveals the secret, and reduces stress.
Transparency is about being honest about the emotions that led to the affair. Couples counseling can create a safe space for these discussions to take place, and your therapist can help the conversation to continue if/when you hit a stumbling block.
37. Tell Your Significant Other What You Appreciate about Them
Take a deep breath and relax. Find a moment to reflect on a time when something your significant other did or said that emotionally touched you. It may be something you always admire, a personality or character trait, or even a simple look or touch.
Pause and enjoy the memory, and when you are ready, connect first with your eyes, and then express your appreciation verbally.
The reason you are part of your couple is that you find many things to enjoy and revel in when it comes to the other person.
Use your therapy time to talk about these moments, especially when there is turmoil. It can be a way to bring you both back to the reason you are in couples counseling in the first place.
38. Focus on Connection with Your Significant Other and the Quality of Your Communication
You co-create the context of your own dialogue, and you are both responsible for the quality of the connection you yearn for.
If he or she is walking away during a conversation or not actively listening, you need to communicate that.
Couples therapy can allow you to do that, but it needs to continue after you get home. As a couple, communication is key, so be sure to speak up!
39. Keep Telling Your Significant Other What Is Important to You
Create a relationship that is your safe space to reveal parts of yourself to the other person. This could mean having a sexual voice and communicating how you experience pleasure or communication about daily living as a couple.
Couples therapy sessions can help you find your voice and to make sure you are ready to hear what your spouse has to say as well.
40. Use the Dialogue Process
Imago couples counseling therapists help couples learn a dialogue process that includes, mirroring, validation, and empathy. Sometimes the process can be compelling and can be practiced outside of marriage counseling sessions.
It is critical that as a couple you remember the process when you’re on your own so that you don’t fall back into the same bad practices.
41. Identify Exits You Take in the Relationship to Avoid Intimacy
Try to be aware of exits you may be taking out of your relationship. These may include addictions, affairs, staying at work longer than you have to, turning your attention to kids that don’t need as much anymore, and other actions.
Avoidance will simply lead to resentment or other painful experiences and feelings. Tell your couples counseling professional during therapy when you have identified these times, what they mean, and how to resolve them.
42. Identify When You Most Desire Your Partner
Is it being away from her/him? Is it when you get in touch with your ability to imagine yourself with your partner? Is it when you see him/her engaged in something where they find purpose and meaning?
You don’t have to wait until your couples counseling appointment to tell your significant other of your desires either! It’s great in therapy, but be sure to always bring these practices home and utilize them.
43. Invite Novelty into Your Relationship
What parts of you do you bring out when engaging with your partner?
What novel parts of your partner do they share with you?
Identify what parts of you that you connect with when you are with your partner. You may even want to express this or ask your significant other during couples therapy in order to connect on a deeper level.
44. Learn How to Express Frustration
After you have developed a rhythm of productive communication, express frustration by talking about your feelings including fear.
Take responsibility for your reactive behavior. Again, couples therapy can help you find positive ways to express these tough feelings.
45. Invite Playfulness into Your Relationship
Playfulness in a relationship promotes laughter, supports well-being, and creates connection.
Marriage counseling can appear to be always focused on the tough emotions, but you can also work to express joy and laughter.
46. Be Curious About Your Partner
It is not possible to know everything about your significant other. Be open to learning more about them even when you believe that you can’t possibly know anymore. There are always new experiences to create together.
47. Allow Your Partner to Experience Separateness
The more differentiated you are in your relationship, the less likely you are to take things personally. Marriage counseling can help couples understand this and be open to trying it.
48. Create a Relationship that Feels Safe
Both you and your partner want to feel free to express your deep feelings. Receive feedback without defensiveness or criticism.
Make time to resolve conflict and allow yourself to be vulnerable when sharing your feelings. Couples therapy and counseling is a great place to start creating a safe space.
49. Attend to Your Relationship by Making Contributions that Will Enhance Connection
Your relationship reflects the positive and negative contributions that you make. Make sure the positive contributions out-weigh the negative ones.
Marriage counseling provides couples an opportunity to figure out what each of you is contributing and if it is equal.
50. Create the Relationship You Want
It is possible to start over even after a crisis. Sometimes a crisis is an opportunity to create a whole new relationship with the same person. Marriage counseling can help you figure out how and if you truly want to.
Common Questions about Couples Counseling and Therapy
What is the success rate of couples counseling?
Evidence suggests that 12 IRT, Imago Relationship Therapy sessions can benefit couples experiencing distress. Treatment in IRT is associated with improvement outcomes and recovery.
Is Couples Counseling Expensive?
Costs vary based on the length of the therapy session. Typically session length is 55 or 90 minutes based on the amount of distress the couple is experiencing.
Set goals for therapy outcomes and improvements in your relationship. Agree to attend a specific number of sessions.
Make the financial decision to invest in counseling together. Create a spending/savings plan using an App like Digit to make therapy easier.
Can couples counseling save a relationship?
Even if your relationship is great you can benefit from couples therapy. Keep your relationship fresh and schedule therapy around life transitions, like a new career or a new baby. After an affair, find a skilled couples therapist.
What is the difference between marriage counseling and couples therapy?
Marriage counseling tends to deal with present events more than past events.
Many couples choose pre-marital counseling to set goals for their relationship. Couples therapy is similar, but it deals with issues that have a history and may include problematic behaviors.
Contact Us for Experienced Couples Therapy
If you and your significant other are experiencing hardship and need to find a way to discuss the issues with a neutral third party, we can provide the therapy you need to get you back on track.
Through therapy and counseling, we can provide you with techniques to communicate better, connect on a deeper level, and find out what it truly important to you.
To schedule a therapy session for you and your partner, call us at 703-622-9559 or contact us here.