Romantic relationships are hard work. They require regular maintenance to keep them running well. If there is a problem or just staring to be a problem, it’s best to have it repaired right away to avoid further complications.
Often we can do some of the basic maintenance and repairs ourselves. Other times, despite our best efforts, we need to rely on a professional to take a look and give us a hand.
Making the choice to go to couples counseling can feel like a very big step. It involves admitting that things are not perfect in your partnership, which is often tough to do and scary to admit. And if you are not particularly familiar with what therapy is all about, it can feel mysterious and confusing, not to mention it can involve considerable effort — finding an appropriate provider, figuring out insurance and other financial aspects of the commitment, coming up with a time to fit into everyone’s schedule. Often, the idea of seeing a marriage or couples therapist sits on the back burner, with one or both parties thinking that it may be a good idea, but also feeling unsure of how to proceed — and of whether their specific problems can really be helped.
It is interesting how easily and quickly we take such steps to repair or prevent damage to our vehicles. But when it comes to our relationships, we often avoid taking action until the situation has become much more serious.
Unfortunately, many couples try couples therapy when a significant amount of damage has already been done. Maladaptive relational patterns have become entrenched, the emotional bond between partners has been severely weakened and there is a high level of resentment due to unresolved past conflicts. The list can go on.
Research indicates that the average couple is unhappy for SIX YEARS before seeking couples counseling.
This is not to say that couples therapy cannot be effective at resolving such long-standing problems. Nonetheless, it will be a much more challenging and time-consuming endeavour, requiring a great deal of commitment and effort from both partners.
Misconceptions about what couples therapy is and its purpose can also prevent couples from seeking help early on. Some might think couples therapy is only meant for very serious issues affecting a relationship, including infidelity or addiction. Others may view it as a last-ditch effort before making the decision to end the relationship.
Some think of it as a way to force their partner to change because they are “the problem.” Many people are not aware of the benefits of couples therapy in treating a wide variety of relational issues. They don’t know how instrumental it can be at improving overall relationship satisfaction that affects individual mental health.
Who Is It For?
Couples therapy is beneficial for any kind of relationship, whether partners are straight, gay, mixed-race, young, old, dating, engaged or married. For example, a recently engaged couple might find premarital counseling an invaluable opportunity to address relationship expectations prior to getting married. Another couple, together 25 years, might discover couples therapy is an effective way for them to regain a sense of excitement and romance in their relationship.
Couples therapy can resolve a current problem, prevent an exacerbation of problems or simply provide a “check-up” for a happy couple that is experiencing a period of transition or increased stress. Common areas of concern addressed in couples therapy include issues with money, parenting, sex, infidelity, in-laws, chronic health issues, infertility, gambling, substance use, emotional distance and frequent conflict.
Sign you need it:
- Trust has been broken
- Communication is poor
- Arguments are getting more frequent
- Something definitely feels wrong, but you’re not sure what or why
- You feel stuck forever in bad patterns or same issue
- Everything your partner does annoys you
- There is something you want your partner to know, but you’ve been unable to tell them
- You don’t know how to communicate with your partner
- One or both of you becomes dysfunctional during a conflict
- You have gone through something devastating that is changing the way you connect with each other
- One of you doesn’t like how the other uses social media
- Emotional intimacy is gone or deeply diminished
- Physical intimacy is a problem
- You can’t stop fighting
- You never fight
- You’re not having sex
- You are growing apart
- The “honeymoon phase” has ended
- You have an ideological difference
- You find yourself focusing more on the negative than on the positive
What Really Is Couples Therapy?
Is a type of psychotherapy in which a therapist with clinical experience working with couples, most often a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist [LMFT], helps two people involved in a romantic relationship gain insight into their relationship, resolve conflict and improve relationship satisfaction utilising a variety of therapeutic interventions. Although the practice of couples therapy may vary depending on the therapist’s theoretical orientation, all couples therapy tends to involve the following general elements:
- A focus on a specific problem (i.e. sexual difficulties, Internet addiction, jealousy)
- Active participation on the part of the therapist in treating the relationship itself, rather than each individual separately.
- Solution-focused, change-oriented interventions early on in treatment.
- A clear establishment of treatment objectives.
Couples therapy will usually begin with some standard interview questions regarding the history of the relationship as well as some exploration into each partner’s family-of-origin, values and cultural background. The therapist might use the initial sessions for crisis intervention if necessary.
The couples therapist will then assist the couple in identifying the issue that will be the focus of treatment, establishing treatment goals and planning a structure for treatment.
During the treatment phase, the therapist will help the couple gain insight into the relational dynamics maintaining the problem, while helping both partners understand each of their roles in the dysfunctional interactions. This will help them change the way they perceive the relationship and each other.
Although gaining insight is important, another crucial aspect of couples therapy involves actually changing behaviours and ways of interacting with each other. Couples therapists will often assign partners homework to apply the skills they have learned in therapy to their day-to-day interactions.
Most couples can come away from couples therapy having gained insight into relational patterns, increased emotional expression and developed the skills necessary to communicate and problem-solve with their partners more effectively.
And the sooner you get in therapy, the better. The longer you wait, the more entrenched bad relationship habits (yelling, ignoring, prioritising Super Smash Brothers instead of date nights) become and the harder it is to break them. Unfortunately, people tend to see couples therapy as an emergency measure, rather than a preventative one. It’s the equivalent of not worrying about those chest pains until you’re in an ambulance on the way to the hospital in full cardiac arrest.
While couples therapy can certainly help in many situations, it isn’t the miracle overnight solution some people believe it to be.