How couples counseling can help at the start of a relationship

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How couples counseling can help at the start of a relationship
Aislinn Moss. (Courtesy photo)
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By Aislinn Moss, Psy.D.

Usually when people think of couples counseling, it’s typically thought of as a “last resort” to save a marriage; however, it can help set a good foundation of skills at the start of a marriage that partners can build on throughout their relationship.

It can be easier to prevent a wound than heal it later on. When couples are proactive in navigating and preventing issues, it helps avoid future pain because they have the right tools to navigate issues as a team. Some issues only become noticeable after they have lingered for many years, and, when noticed, resentment, mistrust and sadness might have already built up.

Therapy isn’t just for helping couples resolve issues: it helps partners establish a strong foundation to come together and understand what is really important and deepen their intimacy. Building a life with someone else is a big task, so having someone to help you through this can help navigate choices in your relationship.

And, communicating effectively with your partner is a skill and not something that automatically happens. Therapists guide couples in how to do this, which then sets the relationship up for future success.

Here are some specific skills that you can learn in couples counseling.

Building a strong foundation

In the beginning of your relationship, partners are learning about each other. Therapists help couples truly get to know one another, including learning about parts of your partner’s inner world that you may not even think to ask about. Therapists help clients have honest and vulnerable conversations about themselves. In a new relationship, this is important so partners can make informed decisions about whether this relationship is right for them or to build an even stronger foundation.

Learning to build a shared life

Building a life with a partner is hard work. Not only do you have to work together to make big decisions about your future, but you have to incorporate your partner into the life you’ve already created. Therapists help clients identify their dreams, values and goals so that they can work through persistent issues and compromise. It’s helpful for couples to do this work early on so both partners feel satisfied, and it’s much easier to do this work early on than once big decisions have already been made.

Learning to effectively manage, engage with conflict

Confrontation with a partner can be a daunting task. If done correctly, partners can feel even closer following a fight. If done incorrectly, conflict can cause wounds in a relationship that are painful and often go unresolved.

Partners can avoid potential future problems if they address conflict in a healthy way early in the relationship. Couples therapists help you learn how to communicate openly and without defensiveness, contempt or criticism. They also help clients learn how to come back together after a fight and heal some of the hurts that might have been caused.

Learning to support your partner

Even if our relationships are solid, life can throw difficult experiences at us. Figuring out how to support your partner while they navigate a challenging experience requires you to understand them, their experience and your role as a partner in those moments. Therapists help couples feel secure in their relationships and help partners understand how to care for each other. Learning these skills early on will make using them when life does get difficult that much easier.

The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist at Old Town Psychology, an award-winning psychology practice in Alexandria.

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