Common Couples Therapy Misconceptions
Couples counseling is defined as a therapeutic service offered to two partners that identify themselves as being romantically involved and needing help working through some issue(s) to improve the relationship. Couples therapy typically involves two partners and a counselor who helps clients identify interpersonal problems, encourage accountability, and create a safe, judgment-free space for individuals to learn and change problematic behaviors. Oftentimes, communication issues, lack of intimacy, or infidelity bring couples in for therapy, but there are a range of reasons for partners seeking couples counseling. Interestingly, couples therapy is commonly misunderstood amongst the general public.
Below I address six common misconceptions about couples counseling:
- “Couples therapy is for couples who hit rock bottom.”
- “Couples therapy is for married partners.”
- “The therapist will just let us fight in the session.”
- “The goal of couples therapy is to keep us together.”
- “The therapist will tell us who is right and who is wrong.”
- “Couples therapy won’t help us.”
While many assume that counseling is reserved as a last ditch effort to save one’s relationship, it does not have to be. Some couples come in for premarital counseling, co-parenting help, or to learn more effective communication skills. Couples can receive therapeutic services for a range of reasons, beyond the stereotypical infidelity. In fact, some argue that it is better for couples to seek services when they are “doing well,” as they are likely to be less defensive and more engaged in the process.
Some believe that couples therapy is inherently for long-term or married partners. However, any partners can seek couples therapy. Couples counseling clients come in with diverse backgrounds, situations, and experiences. Some may be married or unmarried, have children or childless, long-term or short-term, open or monogamous, heterosexual or LGBTQ+, etc.
Couples therapy goes beyond simply providing another space for partners to argue as they would at home. Of course, there will be discussion of relationship issues that come up. However, spending 60 minutes arguing about who left socks on the bathroom floor that morning would not be an effective use of one’s time in the therapy room. To some extent, the therapist will need to gain a sense of current communication patterns, particularly at the beginning of services. This is to help identify problematic communication approaches in order to change the behavior. Rather than allowing ineffective behaviors to continue, the therapist helps partners change these and work through issues in a respectful manner.
Another common misconception of couples therapy is that the ultimate goal is to keep partners together. This is both true and false. If both partners have the mutual therapeutic goal of remaining together, then the therapist will help them work towards this. However, the couples counselor does not have a magic tool to make both parties want to continue the relationship. If both are not committed to the therapeutic process and relationship, then facilitating an amicable separation may be the best option for both parties.
When people picture couples therapy, they often enter with the expectation that the therapist will be the referee or judge for the relationship. Others believe that the counselor will identify who the problem is, rather than what the nature of the problem is. This is far from the truth. As the old saying goes: it takes two to tango. Most often, both partners require self-growth and individual accountability. The role of the couples therapist is to help partners learn more effective communication strategies and facilitate productive discussion of issues within the relationship. It is extremely rare, if not impossible, for relationship problems to solely fall on one person, even in cases of infidelity- aside from domestic abuse.
You never know if you don’t try. Some feel shame in bringing outsiders into the relationship, but this stigma seems to have decreased a bit in recent years. People are taking more notice of the benefits that counseling offers, not only for an individual’s mental health, but also for the well-being of a relationship. Couples therapy offers nothing to lose, and much to gain.
If you are experiencing issues in your relationship and are interested in couples therapy, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment today.