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Marriage counseling, also called couples therapy, is a type of psychotherapy during which couples of all types are helped to recognize and resolve conflicts and improve their relationships. Couples use this form of counseling to help them make thoughtful decisions about rebuilding relationships or going separate ways.
Couples therapy is often provided by licensed therapists known as marriage and family therapists. These therapists have graduate and/or postgraduate degrees and many choose to become credentialed by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
Marriage counseling is often short-term and typically includes both partners, but sometimes just one partner chooses to work alone with a therapist. As expected, the specific treatment depends on the situation.
All couples are eligible for counseling, regardless of marital status or label. Some seek marriage counseling to strengthen their bonds and better understand each other. Marriage counseling can also help couples who plan to get married - this premarital counseling can help couples achieve a deeper understanding of each other and iron out differences before marriage.
In other cases, couples seek counseling to improve a troubled relationship. Some issues often addressed through marriage counseling include:
Marriage counseling might also be helpful in cases of domestic abuse. If violence has escalated to the point that you're afraid, however, counseling alone is not enough. Contact the police or a local shelter or crisis center for emergency support.
The only preparation needed for marriage counseling is to find a therapist. Before scheduling sessions with a specific therapist, consider whether he/she would be a good fit for you and your partner. Some common questions you can ask yourself are:
Marriage counseling typically brings couples or partners together for joint therapy sessions. You'll learn skills to solidify your relationship (e.g., communicating openly, solving problems together, discussing differences rationally). You'll analyze both the good and bad parts of your relationship as you better understand the sources of conflicts.
Often times, talking about your relationship and its problems with a counselor is not be easy. Sessions might pass in silence as you and your partner seethe over perceived wrongs - or you might bring your fights with you. Both are fine. Your therapist can act as the mediator and help you cope with the ensuing emotions.
If your partner refuses to attend counseling sessions, you can go by yourself, but it is more challenging to mend a relationship when only one of you attends the therapy sessions. However, you can still benefit by learning more about your reactions and behavior even if your partner is absent.
You might need only a few sessions to help you weather a crisis, making the counseling rather short term. Sometimes, counseling requires several months, particularly if your relationship has significantly deteriorated. The specific plan will depend on your situation. Occasionally, marriage counseling helps couples discover that their differences truly are irreconcilable and that it's best to end the relationship.
Seeking marriage counseling is a very difficult decision, but if you have a troubled relationship it is much more effective to get help than to ignore your problems or hope they get better on their own.
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