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  • Writer's pictureGabriel Roy-Wright

What happens in couples counselling?

What is couples counselling? And what happens during the process?

Many couples and individuals have heard of couples/marriage counselling but they often wonder what actually happens during the process? The short answer is: it depends on the couple and their issues. However, I will review some commonalities that apply to most couples and provide some basic clarity on the general process of therapy.

I use Gottman Method Couples Therapy to assess and identify relationship issues and then provide targeted treatments that shift ineffective patterns in connection and communication that aren’t serving couples adequately.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman developed their approach with 30+ years of research and clinical refinement in their couples lab. They recorded and tracked couples interactions, communication styles, physiological response, and whether they stayed together or not. They advocate for science-based interventions that reflect human physiology, communication styles, and understanding the importance of emotion in human interaction.

The goals of Gottman Method Couples Therapy are to manage conflicting verbal communication; boost intimacy, respect, and affection; remove obstacles that create a feeling of stagnancy; and improve empathy and understanding within the context of the relationship.

During your sessions, we will strive to achieve these goals by focusing therapeutic interventions on three key areas: improving friendship, expanding conflict management, and creating shared meaning.

Conflict management is where we will spend a lot of time as this is a reality for almost, if not all, couples as Dr. John Gottman states: ““Although you may feel your situation is unique, we have found that all marital conflicts fall into two categories: Either they can be resolved, or they are perpetual, which means they will be part of your lives forever, in some form or another.” During their research the Gottmans' identified that 69% of couples' conflicts are perpetual. Therefore, the goal will not be to eradicate conflict, (because that is impossible!) but to move through it effectively and strengthen the relationship through the process rather than erode the relationship through detrimental communication during conflict.

How many sessions are there?

The first session is as a couple, followed by individual sessions for each partner, and the last assessment session is as a couple for treatment planning. From there, depending on the issues identified, we will meet weekly, biweekly, or monthly to address and overcome the issues that are affecting your relationship.

The Gottmans' recommend committing 6 months to the process and found that for couples to effectively deal with their issues they ended up requiring around 20 sessions. (keep in mind this is an average and may not reflect your specific situation).This may seem like a lot, and it may feel disheartening but likely your problems took years to develop, so it will take at least some months, if not years, to improve.

What can you expect during the assessment sessions?

You can expect to address and focus on the issues you are bringing to the table. This requires a thorough analysis of how you may be contributing to the ineffective habits that aren’t serving you as a couple. Everyone is able to identify the problems with their partner. I will ask you to do the much more difficult task of identifying how you contribute to the problem. My task will be to help guide this process for both of you.

I will also ask you to complete The Gottman Relationship Checkup an online questionnaire that will help us identify and pinpoint the issues that may be detracting from your relationship. This will also guide us to the interventions we use during treatment sessions. (I will have a follow up post explaining the specific details of the questionnaire in the future)

Lastly, I will provide psychoeducation during this process to clarify and build your understanding of how human physiology, family of origin, and communication styles contribute to the issues that brought you into therapy.

What can you expect during treatment sessions?

Treatment sessions will be a mix of identification, exploration, education, and exercises to shift patterns and build awareness. I will often ask you to practice with me in session and then take those skills developed together and apply them at home. Treatment sessions are much like personal training for physical fitness. You will see some benefit from the sessions alone but if you are able to apply what we learn in daily life your gains will be much larger.

I will also help both of you understand your physiological response (fight or flight) and how this may be contributing to conflict or avoidance. We will employ pulse oximeters to measure oxygen saturation and heart rate. These feedback mechanisms will allow increased awareness that can mitigate ineffective habits.

Next steps

If you feel that couples counselling may be of benefit to you please contact us at 250-362-5035 for more information or to book and initial appointment. We also provide convenient online booking at

Stay tuned for more posts on couples counselling in the coming months!

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