Relationships have been found to provide significant benefit and support for those lucky to find one. Such relationships can be fortified by a mutual give and take, requiring both partners to recognize and commit to fulfilling each others goals and aspirations. Sadly, relationships can at times fall into negative cycles of communication and behavior, causing partners to lose sight of each others point of view and act on self-focused desires, which may sever a relationship for good. This relational conflict can cause dissatisfaction that challenges a couples’ ‘staying power.'
Couples therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for working to regain understanding and togetherness. A therapist can help you work through issues concerning finances, housework, extended family, parenting, work, relocation, aging parents, and infidelity; all challenges that can sever a strong partnership if not attended to.
While therapy can provide relief, it’s hard to admit your partnership isn’t perfect. And, it’s also difficult to understand what exactly couples therapy entails: what can or can’t therapists do?
Recognizing this ambiguity and discomfort, it’s important to go in to therapy truly knowing what it’s all about. To set off on the right foot, we must debunk common couple therapy myths, to drive understanding and healthy direction. Here are common misconceptions clients come in with:
Myth 1: “A therapist will back me up or prove I am right”
While it may feel wonderful to finally have someone prove who is “right” or “wrong” in a conflict between you and your partner, a good couples therapist will not take sides, tell you who the “winner” is, or just focus on what one person sees as the problems. Rather, the therapist will remain neutral and help each of you resolve what you see are your present differences or challenges. Sessions will focus on helping you and your partner more clearly articulate and convey individual feelings, thoughts, and experiences, in a neutral setting. A therapist will guide you to more fully listen to you partner’s feelings, thoughts, and experiences, and help your partner to do the same for you. The goal is for both parties to feel supported, heard, and listened to so that mutually satisfying solutions can be worked towards.
Myth 2: “Couples therapy is meant to save our relationship”
Simply starting couples therapy does not guarantee success. Many who seek couples therapy may already face hardship that challenges the stability and success of the relationship. Therefore, it must be recognized that there is hard work to be done without guarantee, and that must be an accepted reality upon starting. Today, about 40-50 percent of married couples divorce. This statistic highlights how challenging it can be to resolve relationship challenges. Yet, there’s hope in the fact that you both have recognized a problem and sought help and betterment through couples therapy.
Myth 3: "My partner should know what I want. I have said it a million times..."
A good couples therapist will help each partner to listen differently; to hear each others point of view and gain thought and action strategies to communicate more effectively. It is so easy to get caught up in the frustration of a problem, that you lose sight of how to fix it, or what needs to be said and done. Messages can get convoluted when mixed with emotion to the point that the meaning is lost, and listeners can struggle to actually 'hear a message' when a defense goes up. A therapist strives to work through this, to uncover destructive communication patterns in each party, and work to reframe messages so they are actually heard and acted upon. No couple can read each others minds; therefore, clear communication is essential.
Myth 4: “This won’t work if my partner doesn’t want to go with me.”
While this isn’t wholly true, a reluctant member of the couple may delay growth and solution. Forcing someone who adamantly does not want to go may not be beneficial to either party, and at times, can be more destructive. In situations like this, it may be best to start with separate sessions, and gradually work towards joint, couple therapy. This may be a more acceptable way to discuss the one member’s resistance to therapy, privately, and have a therapist decide whether the resistance is something that can be overcome.
Myth 5: “Does therapy have to be a long-term commitment for it to work?”
Actually, short-term therapy can be extremely useful for couples, and generally only lasts between six and twenty sessions (one session a week). Short-term therapy is goal directed and focuses on shared issues and problems, frequently taking an action-oriented approach to solution and betterment. It is important that therapy fits the needs of the couple, and for many, short-term therapy can help in uncovering thoughts and feelings interfering with the relationship.
Myth 6: “Couples therapy is only for people who are about to break up”
Surprisingly, we hear this one a lot! It’s widely believed that only couples who are about to break up or dissolve their relationship should seek out additional support for their relationship. However, couples therapy is a space where partners can seek to grow in their relationship and create a stronger bond. For example, if you and your partner recently became engaged you may be considering seeking out pre-marital counseling. Surprise! That’s a form of couples therapy too! Couples of all experience can benefit from a devoted time to check in about their communication patterns, the balance of responsibilities, and more, despite whether things feel unstable or as stable as ever.
If you are considering couples therapy, it is important to clarify your expectations, both personally, and to your partner. As the saying goes, ‘you only get out what you put in,’ it becomes imperative that you and your partner approach therapy with appropriate expectations. Recognizing the reality of couples therapy will help you to prepare to get the most out of each session.
It is important to remember that committing to repairing the relationship, and actually starting to repair it are two different things. Couples therapy may be key in helping you and your partner take appropriate steps in starting the repair.
Remember, we at Wellman Psychology & Associates have a wealth of experience working with couples from all backgrounds and experiences. Reach out to setup an appointment if you think you and your partner may benefit!
Reflect on what you want to gain from therapy. What are your reasons for going? What are you expecting to happen?
Do your best to stop unhealthy patterns of interaction that are causing distress in your relationship at home. Record when problems arise, and what you said or did leading up to the problem. This can provide insight into solution going forward…
If you’re ready, it is important to research local counselors and book an appointment with multiple therapists to see which best matches your relationship needs.