So many of us consider therapy of any kind to be on an "as needed" basis, and therefore don't look at couples counseling as a way to maintain a healthy relationship. "Why should I go to therapy? I don't need it." According to Wyatt Fisher, Psy.D., clinical psychologist in Boulder, Colorado, "Some couples don't want to seek counseling for fear that it means their marriage is in serious trouble." That's likely part of the reason why most couples ultimately wait too long to seek out professional help; statistics show that couples spend an average of six years feeling unhappy before getting help. By that time, says licensed clinical professional counselor Julienne Derichs, many couples may have "mixed agendas" about what they would like to work on in counseling. "Some want to work on repairing and strengthening the marriage, while others want to explore the path to divorce and separation," she explains.
Experts agree that there's no time like the present, especially when it comes to something as important and fragile as working on your relationship. "Couples who seek out help for their relationship (at any stage, from dating to empty nesters) are ahead of the pack when it comes to learning about communication, negotiation, keeping connection strong, and healthy boundaries," says Dr. Fisher. Here, the therapists share the surprising ways your relationship could improve with even just a few sessions of couples therapy.
It may strengthen your communication.
It's not always easy to know why we feel a certain way, let alone why our significant other feels a certain way. This is an area that often leads to conflict. "Couples counseling can help you learn how to talk about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a way the keeps the conversation on task and decreases the likelihood of it getting negative," Derichs explains. "Couples can learn what conversations need to be paid attention to and 'kept on the table' so they can revisit the topic on a regular, ongoing basis."
It may help resolve conflicts.
"All couples have conflict and the majority don't handle it well by either blowing up or ignoring it," says Dr. Fisher. "A couple's counselor will train couples on how to work through conflict honestly yet sensitively." Examples of conflict resolution you might expect to work on in couples therapy include avoiding saying certain phrases (i.e. "You always do this…" or "You never do this…"). "We also work on understanding defense mechanisms and not putting up walls," says Derichs.
It may heal resentments.
Whether it's something your spouse did or didn't do in the past or a patch of time when the two of you may have split up, learning to move forward and let certain bygones be bygones can be the fuel your relationship needs to progress. "Each unresolved area of resentment often builds barriers to intimacy, so working through them is essential," explains Dr. Fisher. "Learning how to empathize with your partner's perspective and take ownership for your part are all essential."
It may teach you how to love well.
"This can be done through inventories to discover the top things that makes both of you feel really loved and respected and the top things that make you feel unloved and disrespected," explains Dr. Fisher. "Learning what these are and then putting them into practice is the key to sustaining romantic love in your relationship."