Couples therapy is not easy and we often hesitate when we hear it. Generally, there are still many misunderstandings in our culture about the therapeutic environment. I’m hoping to dispel a few common myths & make approaching couples therapy a little less daunting.
Myth 1 – Couples therapy is only for folks on the brink of divorce.
Man, am I glad this one isn’t true! We would likely see our divorce rate spike if we only used couples therapy as an environment to determine whether to stay together or not. There are times this is the presenting issue for couples, but definitely not the only one! Many couples begin couples counseling as a preventative measure. For example, many couples have secure commitments, which can mean divorce is simply not an option and as they both remain committed to this they may need a neutral party to help resolve a particular dispute, establish a new sexual style after having children, or simply improve communication and unhealthy conflict dynamics. Realizing a good marriage requires intentional and consistent effort to go the distance can be a major game changer. In the midst of busy work, parenting, & personal schedules it is all too easy to dismiss our marital needs. In the safety of the therapeutic environment couples can realign with this reality and learn practical tools to make this happen along the way. Please don’t wait till it’s really awful to come in! Your marriage is worth the work!
Myth 2 – Our couples therapist is going to side with me or my partner.
This is a reasonable concern! It’s normal & human to choose sides, so it makes sense that this is a potential fear. However, as clinicians we are trained & educated to remain non biased & non judgmental. We genuinely care about your relationship, desire to see you succeed in this process, and feel honored to assist you in a part of this journey. Great therapists seek to find your strengths and utilize them to help you grow in areas of concern to benefit the relationship, so trusting that your therapist sees your good & wants to amplify it is an important factor. Without your trust we are at a loss! The therapeutic alliance is the greatest predictor of success. Now, what if you understand all of this, but still suspect your therapist may be siding with your spouse? As I said, we are humans, so they very best thing you can do is try to address this with your therapist directly. This rupture can heal with understanding, clarifications, & nonjudgmental acceptance from the therapist to the client.
There is one exception that needs to be mentioned. As I said earlier, your couples therapist is invested in the couples’ success overall, which means if abusive language, emotionally abusive dynamics, or domestic violence are present they will identify it and side with what is best for the health of the relationship. This could look like requesting individual work be explored, additional methods of treatment be determined, or that pausing couples work at the time is best. Safety within a relationship is the foundation for every aspect of intimacy & if your therapist observes a lack of it that could be abusive they will assist with recommendations to increase safety and decrease abusive dynamics.
Myth 3 – Couples therapy can be used as needed, like on a drop in basis.
In the beginning of your therapeutic relationship your therapist shares about the overall process, which should include a clear picture of your goals & the objectives that will help you reach them. We look forward to you and your spouse crushing your goals & graduating from couples work! For me, it can be my greatest honor and reward to see you both in a healthier and more connected space with each other. However, after minor improvements couples tend to drop out of the therapeutic process as they really believe the relationship dynamic has improved. Unfortunately, while there have been improvements the core dynamics that exist likely haven’t yet been understood & worked through. This can lead folks to come back in to explore these ongoing cycles, which is great. However, don’t begin to believe that this is the ideal way to work together! Ultimately, the pattern on dropping out, coming back, dropping out, and coming back again, etc. can be ineffective. It’s best to work on things consistently with your partner in the safety of therapy and see things through till graduation! Every couples goals are different, but a general rule of thumb is that your presenting challenges and the additional areas of concern that emerged are mostly resolved leading to a change at home, not just within sessions.
A a therapist specializing in couples counseling and as a spouse who has gone through my own marital counseling I really encourage folks to explore it. It can be one of the factors that enrich, educate, & help your relationship heal. Enjoying the gift of marriage with safety, satisfaction, & security is essential. Don’t sell you & your spouse short!