Becoming deeply vulnerable and committing to a life with another person is one of the most courageous and rewarding efforts one can attempt. It’s also a lot of work! Some sociologists assert that only 8% of marriages are vital, defined as a relationship where two people are more than the “sum of their parts.” These marriages typically have genuine friendship, sexual expressiveness, and trust. They also enjoy frequent quality time, have a high tolerance to stress, and engage in conflict in a way that leads to a more passionate connection (with the ability to repair quickly from misattunements).
For the last three decades, I’ve been curious about what makes romantic love flourish and sustain a lifetime. I’ve read hundreds of articles, books, and blog posts; I’ve watched thousands of hours of documentaries about the mysteries of human connection. Few things are more inspiring than watching two people find closeness again, healing their family and saving them from heartbreak and regret. Here at Lyon Counseling Center, we are fortunate to have an experienced team of clinicians providing consultation and resources to each other. Hopefully, by now, you can understand why I’m passionate about working with couples in my clinical practice!
“I would not wish any companion in the world but you.”
– The Tempest, William Shakespeare
Three Types of Couples Counseling
According to researchers at the Gottman Institute, most unhappy couples wait an average of six years before seeking couples counseling. When Is It A Good Time To Seek Counseling? I recommend that couples attend counseling before a crisis to learn essential skills to navigate life transitions.
- Relationship Repair Counseling: Becoming parents or discovering different parenting styles, disagreements over the division of household chores, managing chronic illness/job stress, in-law relationships, communication issues, financial problems, remarriage with children, grief and loss, cultural concerns, mismatch of attachment styles or desire for physical intimacy, and past betrayals are common concerns I work with in our Ann Arbor psychotherapy office.
- Discernment Counseling: This is for partners on the brink of separation and in active crisis: infidelity, abuse, or active addiction may be present. One person may want to work on things, and another (or both) can be deeply ambivalent; often, people describe this to me as “we are stuck.” Together we assess how you got there and what is needed to revive your connection. Suppose you do decide to end the relationship. In that case, therapy can help create respect and compassion after bitterness and hurt, provide clarity, and create an optimistic road map for the future (including how to be healthy co-parents).
- Premarital Counseling: Couples embarking on creating a life together often attend counseling sessions to set goals, navigate potential obstacles, and assess their readiness to commit to marriage. This process can be a reassuring and enlightening experience, especially for adult children from divorced parents.
When Is Couples Therapy Not Recommended?
Timing is everything: relationship counseling must be emotionally and physically safe for both partners and the priority. These are the three most common contraindications to couples counseling:
- Characterological Domestic Violence
- Ongoing Affairs
- Untreated Severe Psychological Distress
How Long Will It Take?
That’s an important question! I utilize techniques from Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, which recommends around 8-20 sessions. In the first session, we discover patterns of conflict and stumbling blocks in your relationship. I then ask couples to complete an extensive questionnaire from the Gottman Method to gain more insight into their strengths and areas for growth.
In working with an empathetic, skilled clinician, you “win” no matter the outcome of couples therapy. Discovering common destructive patterns that unconsciously sabotage your relationship with your partner and collaboratively changing them is the essence of couples therapy. This knowledge you will carry with you the rest of your life, in all your connections: the improved ability to speak more emotionally “from the heart,” greater self-awareness, and the tools to repair the inevitable misunderstandings in life—these qualities are valuable beyond measure. Working together to create a relationship with shared meaning, restored trust, and a more intentional, intimate relationship is time well invested.
If you are ready to explore if couples therapy can help your relationship, please contact us here: Lyon Counseling Center
In the meantime, please explore some of my favorite resources for couples:
- The Gottman Method: What to Read to Set Your Relationship Up For Success
- Sue Johnson of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy: Videos | Dr. Sue Johnson
- I also recommend the show Couples Therapy, with all three seasons available on Showtime. Here is the first free episode on Youtube: Couples Therapy | Series Premiere | Full Episode
- Ester Perel Podcasts | Esther Perel
- It also might be helpful to start with this short quiz: https://gottmanconnect.com/site/quiz?free
Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at Lyon Counseling Center!