There are a lot of misconceptions about relationship counseling or couple’s therapy.
Do couples only venture to a professional when there is a breach of trust or when they are preparing to walk down the aisle? Or should it be a necessary additive while dating?
While society is progressing to remove the stigma around the need for individual therapy and counseling, there are still some gray areas surrounding the conversation geared toward couples.
We spoke with Rebecca Lynn Pope, Master Life and Love Coach, and host of OWN TV’s newest unscripted relationship series, “Marry Me Now.” Pope has joined forces with OWN to bring some clarity to wannabe brides and helps women determine if they are headed for the altar or a different direction. Pope touches on the right times for couples to seek help and when you should know to just walk away.
During her sessions with couples on OWN TV’s “Marry Me Now,” Pope reiterates that just like relationships look different for everyone, therapy and counseling do as well. If you are looking for sessions to be a one-size-fits-all fix to your problems, you are in for a rude awakening. No matter the stage of your relationship, counseling and therapy can stir up emotions that can require immense work to get through.
SIGNATURE BRIDE: Is there a specific stage in the relationship in which a couple should seek counseling (boyfriend/girlfriend, engagement, married)?
REBECCA LYNN POPE: All of the above. Getting coaching, mentoring and counseling needs to be normalized in our society. It is one of the key ingredients to a happy and healthy marriage. Once a couple is exclusive and committed and you start to encounter issues and triggers, that is a great time to seek a couple’s counselor.
SB: What are the usual reasons couples attend counseling, and do they differ based on the stage of the relationship that they are in?
RLP: Most couples seek counseling during a major crisis in the relationship or marriage. They will tend to wait until an issue has built into a serious problem. Reasons vary from issues with finances, blended families and children, trust, communication, lack of boundaries and sex. No matter what the issue is, it is better to seek counseling as problems appear rather than waiting to address them later when it has escalated.
SB: Do you suggest that the couple attend individual therapy/counseling sessions as well?
RLP: I encourage individual therapy and couples counseling. People need to work on their individual self-awareness and well-being in conjunction with the health of their relationship.
SB: Is there usually a push for the counseling from one partner, or is it usually a mutual decision?
RLP: In my experience, it is predominantly women who start advocating for counseling. Men tend to wait until the relationship is falling apart before seeking help. We get emails and messages from men every week who are seeking help and are desperate to not lose their wives because they resisted counseling and now realize she is halfway out the door.
SB: Do you believe that some type of counseling or therapy is required in every relationship?
RLP: I most definitely believe that everyone needs individual therapy and that couples need counseling and mentoring. We must stop thinking that relationships are supposed to be organically easy. Human beings are complex, and merging two lives together is not easy.
Just as with individual sessions, any type of counseling or therapy will not work if both parties are not receptive and have unrealistic expectations. There should be a clear conversation held prior to your meeting with a professional within the couple to discuss consent, boundaries and a hoped-for outcome.
SB: Is there ever a time where counseling or intervention isn’t enough to save a relationship?
RLP: There are definitely some relationships that are so toxic and have suffered levels of trauma that make recovery nearly impossible. I encourage couples to do everything within their power to heal and hold on to their relationships; however, it is also a two-way street. One partner can’t be doing all of the heavy lifting emotionally. Both parties must be committed to doing the work.
SB: What are some of the tips you would provide to couples so they have realistic expectations of what counseling can do for them?
RLP: It gets worse before it gets better! When you start counseling, you must be prepared to learn some things you didn’t know about your partner and about yourself. You must be patient with each other. Give each other grace. It is a process. It is going to pay off. Work on showing up to the best of your ability and be as honest with your partner, your counselor and yourself as possible.
SB: Any advice for couples of any stage on things they can do without a professional’s help that might aid the progression or resolution of issues within their relationship?
RLP: Yes, do couple’s homework and exercises together. There are now sites, blogs, books and games dedicated to healthy relationships. Utilize them.
Couples counseling is not a “fix” to a relationship of any stage; it is meant to provide you both with the tools needed to not only understand each other better but also tackle issues as a unit while respecting boundaries and needs. No matter what, communication is vital in your relationship—whether this communication is done between you with the guidance of an app or weekly with a professional.