Having a strong, healthy relationship with your partner is important for your overall wellbeing and happiness. However, even the best relationships can run into issues now and then. If you feel like your relationship is experiencing a rough patch, couples therapy may be able to help you and your partner reconnect and get back on track.
What is Couples Therapy?
Couples therapy, also known as relationship therapy or marriage counseling, is a type of psychotherapy that specifically focuses on relationship difficulties. The goal of couples therapy is to discover and resolve conflicts and improve the overall relationship. An experienced therapist works with you and your partner together to address underlying problems and dysfunctional patterns in your relationship.
Unlike individual therapy which focuses on your own personal issues and growth, couples therapy helps you and your partner better understand each other and learn how to meet each other’s needs. It provides a neutral and judgement-free space for you to discuss your relationship openly and work through problems constructively with the help of a therapist.
Common Reasons for Seeking Couples Therapy
There are many different reasons why people decide to try couples therapy. Here are some of the most common issues that bring couples into therapy:
- Frequent arguing and inability to resolve conflicts
- Growing apart emotionally and lack of connection
- Infidelity or breach of trust
- Difficulty with intimacy and affection
- Disagreements over finances, child-rearing, or other major issues
- Poor communication and listening skills
- Substance abuse issues
- Differences in values or life goals
- Mental health issues like depression or anxiety
- Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
While every relationship has its ups and downs, consistently dealing with issues like these without finding resolution can be extremely damaging. Couples therapy helps you get to the root of these problems.
The Benefits of Couples Therapy
Couples therapy offers many benefits that can help improve satisfaction and function in your romantic relationship. Here are some of the top benefits:
Improved Communication and Listening Skills
One of the essential goals of couples therapy is to teach you and your partner how to communicate in a healthy, constructive way. By learning how to express your feelings, needs, and concerns properly and how to actively listen, you’ll be better equipped to handle conflicts without escalation.
Increased Intimacy and Affection
Issues with emotional and physical intimacy are common reasons for seeking therapy. A therapist can help identify barriers to intimacy and guide you through techniques to increase closeness and affection.
Better Conflict Resolution
You’ll gain important conflict resolution skills like how to compromise, validate each other’s perspectives, and argue respectfully. Applying these skills helps prevent fights over disagreements.
Identifying Unhealthy Patterns
Recurring cycles of dysfunctional behaviors, thoughts, and interactions get ingrained in relationships over time. Therapy helps bring awareness to unproductive patterns so you can break them.
Improved Trust and Commitment
Major transgressions like infidelity can rupture the foundation of trust between partners. Couples therapy is designed to help repair broken trust, increase commitment, and make the relationship feel secure again.
Healthier Communication with Children
For couples with children, therapy provides guidance on shielding kids from adult issues and establishing a nurturing, low-conflict home environment.
Clarified Roles and Boundaries
Spouses often benefit from help defining their roles and setting reasonable boundaries with each other around things like finances, household responsibilities, and personal needs.
Exploring your own behaviors, emotions, and ways of relating offers helpful insights into yourself, your partner, and how you interact as a couple.
Stronger Coping Skills
Therapy equips you with coping techniques to better handle relationship stressors, life changes, grief and loss, financial strain, and other challenges.
The Process of Couples Therapy
The couples therapy process typically involves the following components:
Initial evaluation session - The therapist meets with you and partner together to gain background on your relationship, assess the issues at hand, and determine if couples therapy is appropriate.
Regular weekly sessions - Most therapists recommend consistency with weekly 50-60 minute sessions to maximize progress, although frequency and length can vary based on your situation.
Identifying core issues - Through discussion, exercises and assessment tools, the therapist will help pinpoint central relationship problems.
Learning new skills - You’ll acquire communication and conflict resolution techniques through instruction, modeling, practice, homework assignments, and feedback.
Exploring emotions - The therapist helps each partner express vulnerable emotions like sadness, anger, fear, resentment in a thoughtful, constructive way.
Facilitating solutions - With the therapist’s guidance, you and your partner collaborate to develop practical solutions to specific relationship problems.
Tracking progress - The therapist will regularly check in with you about progress and adjust the approach as needed.
Couples therapy typically involves both partners equally. Individual meetings with the therapist may also supplement joint sessions occasionally if deemed helpful.
What to Look for in a Couples Therapist
When researching couples counselors, look for these important qualifications:
- Licensed in family therapy or clinical social work - Seek a therapist fully trained and credentialed in relationship/marriage counseling.
- Experience with couples - Look for a decent amount of experience conducting couples therapy specifically.
- Accepts your insurance - Verify the therapist takes your insurance plan if you plan to use benefits.
- Specializes in your concerns - Find someone well-versed in handling the specific issues affecting your relationship.
- Compatible therapy style - Make sure the therapist’s approach fits your preferences and personality as a couple.
- Helpful logistics - Consider convenience factors like location, availability, and office environment too.
Is Couples Therapy Right for You?
While couples therapy offers many advantages, it’s not necessarily right for every relationship. Here are a few signs that couples therapy may be beneficial for your relationship:
- You feel your communication has broken down and arguments are increasing
- Ongoing feelings of disconnection, resentment, or dissatisfaction in the relationship
- You want to understand your conflicts and improve your dynamic but need help to do so
- Serious relationship issues are present like infidelity, abuse, or addiction
- You’re committed to each other but keep repeating destructive patterns
- You’re at a crossroads with major life changes or decisions approaching
However, some situations where couples therapy may not be advisable include:
- One partner is completely disengaged with no interest in improving the relationship
- Domestic violence or severe substance abuse is present
- One partner has already decided to end the relationship
Note: If you are experiencing domestic violence, reach out to organizations like the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit www.thehotline.org to speak with an advocate and get connected to sources of support and safety planning assistance in your area. For those dealing with substance abuse issues, contact local addiction treatment centers or groups like Alcoholics Anonymous to get specialized help.
Every couple faces challenges at times. But if you’re noticing persistent relationship problems, couples counseling can offer the tools and breakthroughs needed to strengthen your connection and get your partnership on track.
Frequently Asked Questions About Couples Therapy
How long does couples therapy take?
The length of couples therapy depends on the severity of issues and how long patterns have been established. Many couples see improvements within 6-20 sessions. Therapy lasts longer for ingrained or long-standing problems.
How often are therapy sessions?
Couples usually attend sessions once weekly for 50-90 minutes. Frequency can be adjusted as needed. Consistency is key so progress between sessions can solidify.
What happens in a couples therapy session?
Sessions involve discussing relationship struggles, acquiring new communication and conflict resolution skills, pinpointing destructive patterns, facilitating solutions, and more. The therapist guides the process.
Do both partners have to participate?
Yes, couples therapy works best when both partners engage in the process, share their perspectives, and commit to change. But individual sessions can supplement if beneficial.
How do I find a good couples therapist?
Look for a licensed mental health professional with expertise in couples work. Meet with potential therapists to ensure a good fit. Check reviews and ask for referrals.
How do I get my partner to try therapy?
Present it as an opportunity to invest in the relationship. Focus on specific problems therapy can address rather than criticizing your partner. Offer to attend an initial session together.
What results can we expect from couples therapy?
Outcomes vary, but you can reasonably expect improved communication, increased emotional intimacy, healthier conflict patterns, reduced negative feelings, and an overall stronger relationship.
Psychology Today. (n.d.). Couples therapy. Retrieved October 27, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/couples-therapy
Schofield, M. J., Mumford, N., Jurkovic, D., Jurkovic, I., & Bickerdike, A. (2012). Short and long-term effectiveness of couple counselling: a study protocol. BMC public health, 12, 735. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-12-735
Lebow, J., & Snyder, D. K. (2022). Couple therapy in the 2020s: Current status and emerging developments. Family process, 61(4), 1359–1385. https://doi.org/10.1111/famp.12824
Aponte, H. J. , & Kissil, K. (Eds.). (2016). The person of the therapist training model: Mastering the use of self. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. https://scholar.google.com/scholar_lookup?title=The+person+of+the+therapist+training+model:+Mastering+the+use+of+self&publication_year=2016&