Couples Therapy is a type of therapy in which a licensed therapist helps people involved in a romantic relationship gain insight into their relationship, resolve conflicts and improve relationship satisfaction through the use of a variety of therapeutical tools and interventions.
Experiencing challenges in a relationship is common. A popular statistic indicates that over 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Most of us know about the kind of romance presented in movies and books - the Hollywood style meet, fall madly in love, live happily ever after model. This notion of relationships is unrealistic.
The truth is romantic relationships are hard work. A healthy relationship requires a great deal of awareness and maturity from both partners. Many of us, perhaps dreaming of a fairytale romance, don't start our relationships possessing the kinds of tools to manage the challenges of being in a relationship. Couples Therapy can give partners a better understanding of each other and teach new, more positive ways of relating.
Who can benefit from Couples Therapy?
Couples Therapy can benefit many types of people in a variety of situations:
- partners who are straight, gay, mixed-race, dating, cohabitating, engaged or married
- couples of all ages, including younger couples or older couples
- couples in short term or long term relationships
- couples who are having problems
- couples who want to get their relationship off to a good start with premarital counseling
- couples who want to prevent problems when facing a big life change, such as birth of a child
- couples who have decided to split up but want to amicably co-parent children
- couples who want a "checkup" to improve communication, intimacy or some other issue
How is Couples Therapy different from Individual Therapy?
Therapists who work with couples approach issues from a "systems" perspective, which means they consider the dynamics going on among family members rather than primarily from an individual perspective. In couples therapy, the therapist is on "both sides," meaning both parties in the couple are given the same safe, compassionate, non-judgmental therapeutic space. Both partners must bring their best efforts and openness to the therapeutic process. The therapist strives to find a balance between the conflicting needs and goals of each partner.
In Couples Therapy, it is important that the therapist understand "both sides of the story." The goal is to help partners learn to function better as a team. This, in turn, leads to changes in the family system, the way that couples live and behave as a family unit. These changes happen not just by talking, but also by working through the issues. Therapists often give couples homework to help them apply the skills they learn in therapy in their day-to-day interactions.
When should a couple consider seeing a couples therapist?
- When you aren't talking. Many relationship issues are simply challenges of communication. A therapist can help facilitate different, better ways of communicating.
- When you're talking, but it's always or often negative. Negative communication can include any talk that leaves one or both partners feeling judged, shamed, disregarded, hurt, insecure, or wanting to withdraw from communicating. Negative communication can also include tone, because sometimes it's not what you say, but how you say it.
- When you're afraid to talk. Sometimes it can be frightening to even bring up an issue. This can be any topic, such as sex, money or a partner's habits. A therapist can help a couple be clear about the issues that concern them and talk about it.
- When affection or engagement is withheld as punishment. When partner acts as "the parent" or the punisher, there is an imbalance in the relationship. A therapist can help couples reestablish a healthy partnership.
- When you see your partner as an antagonist or as "the enemy." You and your partner are not enemies. You are on the same team. A therapist can help partners be a better team.
- When one or both partners keep secrets. Partners have a right to privacy, but keeping secrets can negatively impact trust and the relationship.
- When one or both partners contemplates (or has) an affair. Fantasizing about or engaging in an affair is a sign that a partner desires something different from what they have in the existing relationship. If both partners are committed to the process and to being honest, the marriage may be salvageable. Or the couple may decide to terminate the relationship. Therapy can help partners navigate this process in a healthy way.
- When a partner or the couple is experiencing financial challenges. Financial challenges are a major source of relationship stress. A therapist can help partners discuss financial issues and develop a game plan for addressing them.
- When one partner feels everything would be great if the other partner "would just change." This kind of thinking often leads to stalemates in a relationship. Ultimately, the only person you can change is yourself. However, if both partners are committed to the process, a therapist can help them improve their understanding of each other and relate in a healthier way.
- When you're living separate lives. If there is a lack of communication, meaningful time spent together, intimacy, or if a couple feels they're just co-existing, a therapist can help sort out what is missing and how to bring it back.
- When you're experiencing sexual or other intimacy issues. Significant changes in levels of sexual activity or other types of intimacy often signals that something in the relationship isn't right. A therapist can help partners sort through and improve these issues.
- When you argue over the same little things over and over again. Every person has "trigger" behaviors - specific things that annoy them that wouldn't bother other people. When a partner is annoyed, the other partner often has no idea why the issue "is such a big deal." A therapist can help a couple discuss these issues and figure out if there is an underlying or "root" issue that isn't being discussed.
- When partners are just staying together "for the sake of the children." Staying together for the benefit of children may not benefit the partners or the children. A therapist can help partners figure out if they want a relationship separate from considerations about children. In some situations, couples may decide that it is better to separate and work on co-parenting in a healthy, positive way.
- When there are ongoing differences. Partners may have differing views regarding finances, how to parent children, incompatible sex drives, or other "big ticket" issues that seem ongoing with no solution in sight. A therapist can help partners understand the other partner's point of view and find common ground.
Colangelo, I. (February 13, 2015). Everything you need to know about couples therapy. https://talkspace.com
Lin, C.E. (2016). Couples counseling: what's it all about and should you go? www.ibpf.org/blog/couples-counseling-what's-it-all-about-and-should-you-go
Smouse, D. (June 2, 2014). 13 signs you need to visit a marriage counselor. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/marriage-counseling_n_5412473