Couples therapy can sound incredibly intimidating, and to be completely honest, sometimes it is. When people hear those words, some may think this is the place where the therapist is going to tell you what’s wrong, how to fix it, and everything will be fine. Others hear those words and think they are only here so they can avoid divorce or even prolong that process from happening. Couples therapy requires a lot of work; clients and couples have to be willing to participate, to listen, to put in the work, and to acknowledge wrong-doings on their end as well. The point of couples therapy is not for the therapist to do the work for the couple but to provide strategies and tools for the couple to learn and work on together outside of therapy. The couples therapist presents as an unbiased third party who is there to guide the couple to a healthier and happier relationship, not to fix the individuals in the relationship. The reasoning behind couples therapy can be for a number of reasons: to work on a specific problem, to prevent a specific problem from happening, to strengthen already good foundations and relationships between partners, to work on communication, intimacy, the reasons can be endless. No matter what you and your partner may be dealing with, couples therapy will most likely be able to help you navigate through it. Therapy provides a way for couples to not work on these things alone. It allows them to have someone to help them identify where the issues truly lie and how to overcome them, together.
It’s important to find the right therapist for you and your partner when starting couples therapy. If you or your partner do not feel comfortable with the therapist, then it is most likely that you or them will not feel comfortable opening up during therapy and will have trouble truly getting what you both need and want out of it. Having you and your partner communicate about what you are looking for in a therapist will help to figure out the best place to start looking. Some therapists have different methods they specialize in, so make sure to communicate with your therapist about their methods to make sure it aligns with you and your partner’s goals. Once you’ve narrowed that down, then have a discussion with your partner about what you both want your goals to be for therapy. This is very dependent on the couple and their reasoning for seeking out therapy in the first place, so some goals may be obvious while some may not have as overt issues and want to just strengthen certain areas of their relationship. Whatever you and your partner want to work on, have a rough idea of what you want to discuss and focus on with your therapist, as well as utilize the first session to come up with goals together with your therapist.
There are a number of different strategies and methods that your therapist may use when you and your partner are in couples therapy. There’s the Gottman Method, there’s premarital-focused counseling, there’s cognitive behavioral therapy, emotionally-focused therapy, there are many different methods and different theories that couple’s therapists can utilize. While it’s not necessarily important for you to know exactly what these different methods are, it’s important for you and your partner to discuss what you want out of therapy and how long you’re willing to put in the time and effort and discuss that with your therapist to ensure they utilize the method that works best for you and your partner and what you want. Some methods like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focus on adjusting behaviors and thinking patterns, whereas emotionally-focused therapy focuses more on identifying emotions and how those play a role in our attachment and context of the relationship. There are different types of methods that focus on different factors and areas of the relationship, as well as the individuals in the relationship. Some may overlap with one another, and some therapists may use multiple methods throughout. It’s important to understand what you and your partner want to get out of therapy in order for your therapist to lead you in the right direction.
Throughout the therapy process, couples will learn a number of skills and tools tailored towards what goals they are working towards and will be guided to practice those skills in and out of session. The key is to be ready and willing to put in the work and time, as there can be barriers to therapy and resisting the help and treatment. If you or your partner are not ready to do that, talk about why that is and how you can get there. Keep in mind that couples therapy may not always be the answer, but it can always be a helpful resource and one that you and your partner should not be afraid to try if you feel this could be even a little bit beneficial. Relationships are extremely difficult to navigate and there is nothing wrong with asking for help when it gets too challenging to manage on your own.
Emily Blair, ALMFT