The Couples Counselor as Mediator
All couples experience conflict at one point or another and couples counseling can help mediate that conflict. Open Avenue couples counselors are trained to be unbiased and nonjudgemental, and therefore act as a neutral and trustworthy source to help couples resolve their issues.
The couples counselor structures the session by setting guidelines and rules. Couples must take turns speaking and listening. They must take turns sharing their emotions and understanding their partners feelings. The counselor intervenes to redirect the couple when one or both people are criticizing the other, becoming defensive, and/or shutting down. Couples counseling provides a safe and comfortable environment while also pushing for growth and resolution to the couples concerns.
The couples counselor must be an emotionally intelligent mediator. One aspect of being emotionally intelligent is to be aware of the emotions that each person is experiencing (whether stated or not). This includes accurately assessing both the intensity of the emotion and the person’s maximum capacity for the emotion before he/she becomes overwhelmed. A flooding of emotions makes it very difficult for the couple to communicate respectfully, listen openly, to acquire skills, and learn new information.
Skill building in Couples Counseling
The couples counselor needs to help the couples to build skills in order to overcome their presenting issues and maintain positive changes over time. One core skill to the couples counseling process is active listening. It is not a simple skill and many people misunderstand what it is and how to use it. Active listening is critical not only in validating your partner, but it can be extremely helpful in de-escalating arguments, rebuilding trust, and opening up sensitive topics.
Distress tolerance, anger management, and other forms of emotional regulation are also core skills to the couples counseling process. The skills must be acquired before the couple can refrain from maladaptive tendencies such as attacking the other or shutting down.
Goal Setting in Couples Counseling
The couples counselor gives homework so that couples can deepen intimacy, rebuild trust, improve communication skills, and ultimately address the issues and concerns initially presented. Often each member of the couple struggles with a different issue and they will be guided to compromise development in that particular area. For example, one person may agree to work on their budgeting if the other person agrees to set a goal towards drinking in moderation.
Ultimately, the couples counseling process is not about assigning blame, but seeking solutions. The couples counseling environment should be nonjudgemental, and validating to allow each person to see their partner as a teammate rather than an adversary. Progress, not perfection. With consistent effort and optimism it will soon be high fives and hugs all around!