You hear ‘couples counseling’, and you probably think of counseling for married people who are trying to avoid divorce. But it’s so much more than that, and it can start being helpful at any stage of a relationship, whether it’s been 6 months or 60 years. Whether you're dating, married, or just spend a significant amount of time together, couples counseling can help you and your partner build trust, communicate more effectively, and learn to resolve your conflicts with each other in a healthy way.
It’s not just something for long-term relationships and it’s not just something for high-conflict or high-tension times in your relationship. It can also be there for you if you want to deepen your relationship; learn new skills so they are ready for when you need them; want to take your relationship from “roommates” to “the beginning feeling” even if you are years in. But let’s break it down even further by outlining the question: “What do people get out of couples counseling if they aren’t trying to avoid divorce?!”
Well, let’s get to it!
Our St. Louis Therapists Share 5 Ways Couples Counseling Can Be Useful in Your Dating Relationship:
1. Couples Counseling Helps Build A Relationship That Can Last:
Couples counseling helps identify and resolve issues that can lead to breaking up. It’s much easier to work on a problem before it’s exploded all over the relationship and made a big mess.
If there’s something brewing that you and your partner haven’t dealt with, couples counseling can help the two of you work on it, so it doesn’t end the relationship prematurely.
Even if there aren’t problems showing up right away, you and your partner can learn how to fight productively from the start. This can be a true game-changer! I mean, think about it: knowing how to fight with your partner is a brilliant idea!
It means you are deciding the rules so you are playing the same game! What’s off limits? What’s in-bounds? Do you have the same ideas around voice volume; taking a break; going to bed angry vs not? These things can be outlined, agreed upon, and then used so you can have a productive argument that doesn’t lead to a bigger argument.
So then, later on, when those issues arise (as they surely will!) you two will already have strategies for working through those issues in a healthy and safe way. It’s a little bit like giving someone boots to walk through a room of Legos, rather than waiting for them to step on one and then bandaging their foot after. Preparation can save a lot of pain; couples counseling during the dating stage is the same idea.
2. Couples Counseling Provides An Opportunity To Build Trust:
It can be hard to talk about your feelings with someone important to you, even if you love them. Sometimes, especially when you love them.
No one wants to show their dirty laundry too early and risk scaring away their partner. Girls might want to remain “the cool girl” and guys may want to showcase that they “have it all figured out.” It’s scary to be vulnerable and talking about emotions can oftentimes be very scary!
But couples counseling allows you to practice being more vulnerable and honest with each other in a safe space. Counseling feels like an appropriate place to talk about deep and hard things, so it won’t seem as uncomfortable to bring up the important things in your home, in the car, or lots of other places outside of the counseling space.
While one partner practices opening up, the other can practice responding non-judgmentally and with compassion. If you practice this early in counseling, it will be a skill you can use through the rest of your relationship.
3. An Outside Perspective Helps Identify Issues You Haven't Spotted:
Couples counseling is a great way to get an outside perspective on your relationship. You both might be so used to seeing things from your own points of view that you don't realize what you need to work on.
A couples counselor will help identify red flags and patterns of behavior that may not have been apparent before, which gives both of you a chance to figure out how to improve things going forward.
Your couples therapist is also trained not to take sides. When you’re a couple it’s hard to get honest feedback you can trust from family and friends, because they generally have alliances to one of the people in the relationship. And no matter how hard they try to be neutral, there will always be things that they can’t be objective about. Your therapist isn’t focused on the two of you as individuals, but as a unit. Their client is actually the relationship itself. So they will give both of you feedback with the same level of honesty. They are truly rooting for both of you.
4. Pre-marital Counseling Falls Under Couples Counseling:
You don’t have to wait until after getting married to start working on your relationship. Couples counseling before marriage will help you identify issues that could cause problems long-term, so you and your partner can work through them. In some cases, it may help you see that going forward with marriage might not be the right choice for where you are in your relationship. It’s a good screening process that can teach you more about the ways you’re compatible with your partner, and what areas will require work.
A couples counselor will help you both understand what a good marriage looks like for each of you and will help you meld those visions together. Additionally, pre-marital counseling is also a place where the therapist will help make sure you are having very specific and honest conversations around:
household chores & expectations surrounding them
grandparent/extended family involvement in your lives
And so many more things! Some of these things seem obvious to get talked about, but they aren’t always discussed in a way that captures the nuance and impact of those topics once they are present. Getting into them before they are a living, breathing part of your daily life is a great way to enhance the functioning of your relationship.
5. Couples Counseling Can Be Useful Even If You're Not In A Romantic Relationship:
Couples counseling isn’t just for couples; anyone who spends a lot of time together and handles important things together can benefit from learning how to communicate and resolve problems.
Your dating life might actually consist of a close platonic relationship; you may consider someone a life-long partner even if you don’t want to get married or even date. But you will still benefit from the support this type of counseling can provide. You will develop a deeper understanding of each other, clarify the places where you have differing opinions and how to navigate those, and practice being more honest so you can avoid long-term issues.
Non-romantic relationships can experience these kinds of difficulties just as much as romantic ones, so they can also benefit from the support of a couples therapist.
If you're dating someone, thinking about getting married, or just have a close platonic relationship, couples counseling is a great way to ensure your relationship will last. It doesn't matter how long you’ve been together, or how you’ve been together; having an outside perspective on how your partner makes you feel will help strengthen your bond and improve communication in any relationship. So stop thinking of couples counseling as just a post-marriage lifeline and think about it as a way to build a solid foundation at any stage of a relationship.