Relationships are often a source of joy, excitement, and comfort. Over time, however, our partners’ shortcomings can become annoying and their quirks harder to bear, leading to frustration, anxiety and even distress.
While there is no perfect relationship, there are definitely ways for couples to manage their differences and strengthen their bond. Couples counselling is one such way for couples to do so.
So, what is couples counselling? Couples counselling is a subset of counselling that focuses on helping two people in a romantic relationship attain a deeper understanding of their relationship and improve relationship satisfaction. It should not be considered a last resort as it is beneficial across the different stages of a relationship, whether couples are looking to resolving immediate conflicts or conceiving long-term goals. Alongside each couple is their relationship therapist who employs different therapeutic approaches and intervention methods to support them throughout this journey.
This Article Contains:
Who is couples counselling for?
We provide couples counselling in Singapore for people who are keen to seek help with any emotional challenges they face in their relationships. These issues may be long-standing, deep-seated and difficult to articulate. Couples counselling thus offers a safe and neutral environment for individuals to open up and work through any differences they have with their partners.
Seeing a relationship therapist can be beneficial for all types of relationships, whether the partners are young, old, straight, gay, mixed-race, dating, engaged or married.
Some common concerns addressed during couples therapy are issues surrounding:
Why should my partner and I go for couples counselling?
There are no right or wrong reasons to seek couples counselling. Most couples opt for couples counselling to sort out their differences and forge stronger bonds between them.
Some partners even try couples counselling right after getting married because they want to learn about how to prevent any potential problems that may arise as they navigate their new marriage.
Going for couples or relationship counselling allows you to:
How do we know whether to go for couples counselling?
Some red flags to look out for may be:
What to expect at couples counselling?
Choosing to go for couples counselling might seem like a daunting task at first. The first step is admitting and accepting that your relationship may be facing some internal strife. For most couples, the first few sessions may seem unfamiliar and confusing. There is also an added pressure arising from:
- the need to find the right therapist;
- cost considerations;
- distant location; and
- lack of willingness or compliance for both partners to regularly come for sessions.
Your couples therapist will journey with you as you and your partner undertake the following:
Delve into the history of the relationship
When you and your partner meet a therapist for the first time, they may ask you a range of questions. For example, how you and your partner met; what brought the both of you together; how the relationship has progressed over time; as well as how both partners feel about the relationship at present. These questions allow them to better understand the dynamics of the relationship and work through with you and your partner on what led the relationship to its current state.
Acknowledge stressors in the relationship
Recognising that there are issues in your relationship can be difficult and at times dispiriting. However, it is this first step of awareness and acknowledgement that prompts you and your partner towards pursuing mutual understanding, acceptance and growth; all of which helpful in improving your relationship.
During the counselling session, you and your partner can raise the different stressors in the relationship with your therapist. They may take the form of recurring arguments, difficult situations that have been avoided and overlooked, anxiety in light of relationship transitions (eg marriage, parenthood or moving to a new country), or even issues you foresee might become potential points of conflict.
Across these discussions, it is also important to be open and honest with your therapist. This ensures that your therapist can discern the underlying problems in the relationship and provide the right support for both partners in the relationship.
In the initial meetings with your therapist, you and your partner may find certain topics sensitive and uncomfortable to broach. Nonetheless, always remember that couples counselling is an avenue that enables safe and confidential exchanges. Only you and your partner can judge the relationship, not anyone else.
Depending on where you are with your therapy, your therapist may also want to have individual sessions with one or both partners as well before commencing couples counselling, or even in between couples sessions, to better understand the issues and concerns of one party.
Address any differences
In a relationship, both partners may come from vastly different backgrounds (eg culture, faith, education or socioeconomic status) or face different contextual circumstances in everyday life (eg support network, profession and workplace environment).
At first glance these factors seem extraneous and unrelated to the problems you and your partner face in the relationship. However, they may bring into view why both partners diverge in opinions and come into conflict. Navigating through these differences with your therapist ensures that both partners arrive at a more comprehensive picture of the problem at hand. In a relationship, both partners may come from vastly different backgrounds (eg culture, faith, education or socioeconomic status) or face different contextual circumstances in everyday life (eg support network, profession and workplace environment).
Agree on outcomes and achieve balance
What every couple anticipates out of counselling will differ vastly and there is no universal, one-size-fits-all goal for therapy. Hence, both partners jointly envisaging and agreeing on the outcomes they hope to see across their therapeutic journey is a paramount part of couples counselling.
Having a common outcome or a goal in mind can help both partners work towards building a healthy and positive relationship with a clearer direction. A common goal also serves as a constant reminder of what they are striving towards, especially when the same problems resurface.
At the beginning of the couples counselling journey, arriving at goals can be perplexing as both you and your partner may be new to therapy and unsure of what to expect. Nonetheless, you can approach your therapist for insights on goal setting, and start by agreeing on smaller, more attainable improvements you and your partner would want to see based on the prevailing issues identified and brought up. Moreover, keep note that these outcomes are not stagnant and may change with time as the dynamics between the couple change. What matters is that partners remain in communication with each other as they envision the growth of their relationship.
In addition, partners may not immediately see eye to eye with regards to the need for or desired outcome of couples counselling. In situations whereby couples have divergent goals, it is important to find and maintain a balance in the relationship. The perspective each partner has can be shared with your therapist, where negotiations on what to focus on first can take place. Bear in mind that couples counselling involves collaboration and compromise, and your therapist is there to help
Cost of couples counselling
In Singapore, the cost of marriage counselling for an hour-long session typically ranges from S$160 to S$300, depending on the organisation or platform approached. These charges are subject to slight variations as some organisations do offer package rates.
At Talk Your Heart Out, we strive to keep our prices transparent, competitive and affordable while still providing access to quality marriage counselling services. For information on pricing, please refer to our pricing page: http://talkyourheartout.com/pricing/.
How long does couples therapy go for?
There is no prescribed or stipulated timeline for how long couples counselling lasts as the dynamics of every relationship and the motivations for seeking therapy can differ from couple to couple. Several factors that result in the varying length of therapy include:
Nature and complexity of issue(s)
As mentioned previously, there is a myriad of reasons couples decide to go for therapy together.
On the one hand, some couples are looking for support only at a particular point in their relationship. For instance, where couples are making the transition into marriage, premarital couples counselling may span only for a few sessions. Both partners may specifically be going to therapy for mentally preparing themselves for married life and coping with premarital anxiety.
On the other hand, some couples may be dealing with longstanding communication problems. Such issues may have plagued their entire relationship and they may turn to couples counselling for long-term support.
Furthermore, there are also couples who may be amidst resolving more complex issues such as substance abuse or violence. In these situations, the length of couples counselling is typically expected to be longer as couples coping with these distressing experiences may require a longer time to open up and rebuild trust in their relationships.
Commitment and frequency of sessions
Partners may have divergent or even clashing schedules and may not be able to commit to counselling sessions at regular intervals. The low frequency of sessions can potentially prolong the length of couples counselling as couples who are attending sessions spaced months apart may need to fill the therapist in on the events that have elapsed in the time as well as the current state of the relationship.
Engagement across sessions
The idea of couples counselling is often foreign to many. As such, the readiness to engage in therapy sessions varies among couples and even between partners.
Couples who struggle and find it hard to open up to each other and their therapist may need to attend couples counselling for a longer period of time before the relationship takes a turn for the better. Similarly, couples who are unreceptive or unresponsive at sessions may lengthen the therapeutic process.
Conversely, couples who demonstrate positive therapeutic engagement by being fully present at sessions and participating actively in conversations are likely to observe positive developments in their relationship more quickly.
It is a common assumption that couples counselling is only for couples who are facing severe problems in their relationship.
However, couples counselling is far from being a last resort. Couples can also try couples counselling to strengthen what they may consider to be a good relationship to begin with.
Premarital counselling is an emergent mode of therapy that helps couples prepare for the transition into a new phase in their relationship that is married life – a long-term commitment.
The prospect of marriage can be intimidating to many as it possibly brings in new expectations and challenges that a couple has to scale in a relationship. With premarital counselling, doubts surrounding the idea of marriage can be brought to the fore and partners can gain insights into each other’s fears and concerns.
Couples are also presented with the opportunity to learn how to identify potential points of conflict that could arise in the long run and set realistic expectations for their marriage such that marital friction can be significantly reduced.
In this sense, premarital counselling equips couples not only with the vital skills of communication, but also that of comprehension. Afterall, it takes both communication and comprehension to nurture and enkindle a positive, mutually supportive relationship.
Through the guidance of a professional, partners can resolve conflicts of different nature within their relationship.
Some of the relationship issues which may be addressed during premarital counselling are:
Online couples counselling
On Talk Your Heart Out, we also offer couples counselling through an online medium (ie via video / audio). For many couples, online counselling is preferred as it is more streamlined and accessible than an in-person visit.
Some reasons why couples would opt for online counselling:
When both partners are residing in different countries, online counselling may be more applicable as it overcomes the geographical barriers couples may face. It allows both parties, regardless of distance and time difference, to attend the sessions together. Online couples counselling in such situations can be valuable in the long run, as it allows couples to develop and maintain understanding towards each other despite having to live apart for an extended period of time.
Uncertainty with traditional therapy
Couples may find in-person therapy challenging and uncomfortable. Hence, access to online counselling services reduces the stigma surrounding therapy and the initial apprehension that may come with couples who are trying out therapy for the first time. Communicating with therapists through the screen also allows couples to feel more at ease sharing about their relationship, a deeply personal topic that many tend to shy away from in face-to-face sessions.
Couples who prefer to attend counselling in a more familiar and casual environment may find online counselling to be a perk as it can take place in the comfort of their homes. A comfortable setting can allow help partners ease into the therapeutic process quickly.
With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, movement restrictions are likely to be enforced, and in-person sessions may be disallowed and halted at short notice. Online counselling is thus a wise alternative for couples who wish to go for therapy in a safe environment. For couples who are keen to attend counselling sessions on a regular basis, online counselling is also viable considering our current pandemic situation as it is not subjected to disruptions, unlike in-person sessions.
Some partners may be in occupations where they have to frequently travel. In these situations, online therapy would, similarly, be more beneficial and convenient as hectic travelling schedules would not compromise the opportunity to seek of therapy.
What can I do if my partner does not want to go for couples counselling?
Not everyone is receptive to sharing what goes on in their relationship. If your partner is resistant to the idea of couples counselling, here are some things you can do:
Communicate the purpose of therapy with your partner
Let your partner know why you are considering counselling to improve your relationship, and how you envision it will benefit you both. Clarifying your intentions for couples counselling and articulating clear goals can also encourage your partner to try therapy together.
Address your partner’s concerns
Ask your partner what aspect of relationship counselling makes them feel uncomfortable. As they share their doubts with you, you can try to address them and understand their position. In the meantime, refrain from getting defensive amidst their sharing. Listening to your partner attentively can provide them with reassurance and validate their uncertainty.
Thereafter, inquire if there is anything you can do to make them feel less uncomfortable about trying therapy. You can always discuss and arrange for a trial session with your partner before committing to it for the long term. This way, both you and your partner are able to get a sense of how counselling works and assess its suitability for your relationship.
Talk about therapy in a positive way
Many people are reluctant to go for therapy due to the stigma and misconceptions surrounding it. Gently suggesting therapy as an option and expressing your belief in how it can be a source of support for your relationship can help your partner become more receptive.
Offer to choose a therapist together
You can ask your partner what their ideal therapist is like and involve them in the process of selecting a therapist. This allows them to choose someone whom they feel they can trust and reduces their anxiety about couples counselling.
Respect your partner’s decision
If you have tried these suggestions and your partner is still not open to going for therapy together, respect the fact that not everyone is ready for therapy immediately. While it may be disheartening, you can try individual counselling first and discuss any issues relating to your relationship with a suitable therapist.
Thereafter, consider sharing your counselling journey with your partner as it might help them feel more open to attending sessions with you. Observing a positive change in you may encourage your partner to try couples counselling.
What can I do after going for couples counselling?
Reflect at your own pace
Take time between sessions to process what has been shared during therapy and ponder over the input from your therapist.
Heavy information exchange can take place during therapy as couples open up about the relationship. Both partners can take a few moments after each session to pen down what goes on in their mind and revisit them later when they feel more ready to take on these thoughts.
Reflecting on the conversation between you, your partner and your therapist at your own time can help to increase your awareness and understanding of the present issue or situation. Consistent reflection also allows regulation of your emotions and helps prepare yourself for the next session without feeling overwhelmed.
Occasionally, couples may feel drained after a counselling session as both partners have been thinking and talking about sensitive and challenging issues they have been dealing with for a long while. In these moments of vulnerability and weariness, be patient with yourself and your partner and understand that it is not an easy feat to share with a therapist issues in your relationship.
Affirm effort and change
Review the progress you and your partner have made since going for couples counselling and celebrate all attempts – however small – at improving the relationship, be it attitudinal shifts or physical actions.
Change and adaptation take courage and time. For your partner, your affirmation lets them know that their efforts are being recognised and allows them to feel appreciated. This can be particularly uplifting and reassuring when your partner is facing difficulty adjusting to new habits.
At the same time, don’t forget to encourage yourself. We can all be too hard on ourselves sometimes. Giving due credit to yourself as you endeavour to become a better partner is equally important and keeps both partners motivated and committed to healing or bettering their relationship in the long run.
Check in and consider next steps
After several meetings with your therapist, it may be useful to check in on how your partner is feeling about the past couples counselling sessions and share your takeaways with them.
Both partners can schedule a recurring time to assess if the objectives and desired outcomes that were agreed upon at the beginning of couples counselling have been met.
Beyond that, both partners can also start to consider what is their next step forward with regards to their relationship. For instance, after overcoming the issues that were brought up in the initial counselling sessions, couples can work out other aspects of the relationship they wish to improve on.
This undivided attention dedicated to each other outside of therapy allows both partners to feel valued and can be potentially helpful in facilitating more honest conversations about the relationship and its progress.
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Edmund is an experienced counsellor who is able to assist with a wide range of issues. He also works with LGBTQ couples.
Rashmi often works with local & expat clients on individual and family-related issues.
Lira provides couples counselling to local and expatriate couples, and also provides counselling to LGBTQ couples.
Alyssa often works with young adults (professionals, students) and provides couples counselling. She also works with LGBTQ couples.
Karen provides marriage counselling, as well as marriage preparation to help couples build strong relationships.