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Couples Counseling 101: How to Get Started & Be Successful in Couples Counseling

Individual Counseling can be intimidating to get started with. As Licensed Professional Counselors, we get it!


But Couples Counseling? It can be downright terrifying.


Couples Counseling not only asks you to witness yourself in vulnerability, but also to allow your partner and couples counselor to do the same.


Putting your relationship out in the open can be both liberating and jolting. We are designed to want to protect connections with those we love, not put them at risk! On surface level, starting couples counseling can feel like a risk to the love we have.


However, when this connection isn’t as sturdy as one or both partners may desire, that’s when couples counseling may be beneficial to the relationship.


We interviewed a Couples Counselor who is a specialist in all things relationships, Melissa Shaw, to learn more about how to take that leap of faith and get the most out of Couples Counseling.


Melissa Shaw is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who owns Knot Counseling, a group practice for individual and couples counseling. She is trained in Gottman, Relational Life Therapy, Emotion Focused Therapy, and Imago and offers EMDR + Brainspotting to her clients. Her style of counseling is interactive, authentic and “professionally informal.”



We asked Melissa, what drew you to couples counseling?


I’m so passionate about helping people heal. When I first started counseling, I mainly worked with individuals. We would do all this great work in session, but then my clients would return home to the same toxic environment and fall back into the same patterns. I knew that I was only working with half of the pattern. It felt like I was teaching someone to partner dance without their partner.


I knew that to get to the root of a person’s suffering, I needed to help the whole system heal….and that’s when I became obsessed.


How does a client know when they need to go to couples counseling?


Although I’m a firm believer that every couple should pop-in for a few sessions of counseling here and there, there are times when it becomes absolutely necessary.


Here are a few things I look for:

(1) You have built-up resentments that you either aren’t talking about, or when you try to talk about it, it only gets worse.

(2) You’ve grown and evolved, but you haven’t grown and evolved with your partner. You feel disconnected…almost like your relationship is on auto-pilot.

(3) Your partner doesn’t feel emotionally safe.

(4) Your relationship is full of blame and criticism and both of you struggle to take accountability.

(5) You don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings so you sweep your problems under the rug. Now you realize that nothing has been solved.

(6) Your partner feels more like a child or a parent than a partner.


(Psst, Melissa has a whole blog about this! Check it out here.)


Is it ever too late for a couple to start couples therapy?

Hmmmm…..loaded question. Yes and no.


I used to think that once a couple got so diseased with blame, hurt, criticism, and mistrust, there was no turning back. And it’s true, those four things will deteriorate the fabric of your relationship, but, when two people are ready to (and willing) to do the hard, hard work, I have seen couples rebuild their relationship.


Counseling alone won’t fix this though…both people have to be open to falling back in love, and willing to look at themselves and take accountability for their contributions to the negative cycle. Most people struggle to do this when they’re hurt, so they don’t.


What makes a good couples therapist?

A good couples counselor can go above and below. They can rise above the conflict at hand and see the pattern that the couple is stuck in. They can also go beneath the surface and hear the feelings beneath the behaviors. A good counselor will help the couple see this pattern and teach them how to work through it.


While a couple’s counselor is a great resource, it’s important that they don’t develop a dependence on their therapist. A good counselor will help you develop your skills and unpack your projections so that you can build your relationship confidence and start to do some of the heavy lifting yourself, outside of the session.


What is the difference in couples therapy vs individual therapy that clients should be aware of before their first session?


Couples counseling combines coaching and therapy and can be much more directive than individual therapy. While I incorporate moments of individual therapy in my sessions, couples counseling is more about strengthening the dynamic between two people and discovering how the reactions of the other can both heal and hurt.


Individual counseling is more about doing your own work. It’s a moment-by-moment unfolding and feels much less structured.




Ready to get started with Couples Counseling? Connected Brain Counseling offers trauma + brain informed couple counseling. Schedule your free 20 minute consultation here.


You can find more information about Melissa Shaw and her practice, Knot Counseling here.


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