By: Cristina Trette, MA, LMFT
Long gone are the days when couples were expected to keep their relationship difficulties locked up behind closed doors. Today, couples therapy is in the spotlight. Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have shared publicly on their value of marriage counseling. Celebrities, such as Dax Sheppard and Kristen Bell and Pink and Carey Hart, speak up about how couples therapy in a key factor in their relationship happiness. Couples Therapy is quickly becoming popular, accepted, and understood as an important way for couples to prevent and overcome challenges and maintain long term relationship bliss.
As a couples therapist, I am biased, yet I believe that all couples can benefit from attending therapy together, even if only for a brief period of time. If you have been pondering whether or not to attend couples therapy, keep reading.
You have a good relationship
Many believe that couples therapy is designed for struggling couples or those heading toward divorce. It is! Yet it is also designed for couples in good relationships that want to improve communication, strengthen their bond, and ensure life long love.
Couples with intense careers, high stress, and busy families can find it challenging to stay close and connected. This is true even when they get a long well and care deeply for one another. Couples therapy be very helpful for these relationships and families.
My partner and I have a great relationship partly because we attend weekly couples therapy with an master couples therapist. With two thriving businesses, five kids, and very full lives, our weekly sessions provide the time for us slow down and be present with each other. In therapy we engage in inner work and come up with new solutions to old problems. This dedicated time in our week preserves the space for us to be deliberate about what we want to create in our relationship and family life.
Couples therapy is also beneficial for those wanting to prevent relationship problems from arising in the first place. Research indicates that many couples wait 6 - 7 years of struggling before seeking support. Unfortunately, by the time they enter couples therapy, some of these couples have had so much hurt occur between them that restoring their love seems insurmountable. By doing therapy when couples have small problems, it is highly likely they won't ever have problems that are ever to big to overcome.
You struggle with communication
Almost every couple that begins therapy says they need help with communication. Romantic relationships are excellent training grounds for communication skill development. In therapy couples practice and develop empathy, compassion, and reflective listening. They learn how their emotions impact communication and behavior. They become proficient at directly asking for what they need and want. They develop emotional responsiveness and body intelligence. Most couples that go through a solid round of couples therapy become great communicators in all areas of life - with one another, at work, with friends, and family.
You are getting married
Couples therapy offers premarital couples skills and tools that can be implemented right away and utilized for the rest of their life. Attending therapy or a couples workshop early on is very practical. In premarital therapy, couples are guided through conversations on hot topics such as values, sex, children, parenting, finances, and life goals.
You are thinking of leaving
Your therapist will not tell you whether you ought to stay married or get a divorce. Your therapist will help you develop clarity and be your guide to assist you in working on your relationship. When partners commit to personal and relationship growth for a significant period of time, their relationship improve - whether they decide to stay together or go their separate ways. They communicate better, shift out of negative and harmful patterns, parent more responsively, and be a team. Therapy also creates the opportunity for each partner to put everything on the table, share wants and desires, heal past hurts, express hopes and dreams, and work together to determine if they can make it work.
You fight frequently or you fight to take down
Most couples fight from time to time. In healthy relationships couples can get into an argument and and come back together quickly for repair, resolution, and reconnection. The occasional fight, for most couples, is not a problem.
Yet no relationship can withstand frequent fighting without it taking a toll. Some couples get stuck in a space of ongoing tension, bitterness, and bickering. Others compete, criticize, attack, demean, attempt to gain power, or fight to win. This kind of fighting will take the relationship down fast.
Probably the most destructive of fights are when couples get into big explosive arguments with each partner saying or doing things that hurt the other. With this kind of dynamic, couples end experience relational wounds that become hard to heal without therapy or some other intentional healing process.
Therapy is very effective at helping couples to stop fighting. Generally this will involve mapping out behavior patterns clearly and explicitly. Couples will explore what drives their behaviors such as feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and attachment needs. When couples work as a team to change these interactions they learn how to communicate responsively and in a manner that allows both people to be heard and understood. They also learn how to repair so after the next fight, they know how to get back into balance and reconnect.
You don't agree on parenting
When partners have different parenting styles, such as when one is permissive and the other is authoritarian, this can wreak havoc on family life. In couples therapy, parents will receive parent education based on what we know is the healthiest way to raise children. Generally this involves learning how to set structure, limits, guidelines with connection and empathy. In addition, both partners get the space to share what matters to them, explore how they were parenting when they were kids, and be given the opportunity to be deeply heard and understood. From this space of empathy and compassion it becomes easier for couples to work as a team toward creating parenting agreements that work for them and their family life.
Your sex life is struggling
Sex is an important part of most romantic relationships. Some couples do not have much sex but they are both satisfied. In this situation there is no problem! Yet if one partner wants more sex and the other wants less, they cannot seem to satisfy each other, or sex leads to distance and arguments, then therapy will help.
If couples are experiencing sexual dysfunction it will be important for them to talk to their doctor or a certified sex therapist. Yet if the problem lies more in attraction, desire, connection, arousal, lifestyle, and frequency, couples therapy will help both partners get what they want when it comes to sex.
You are stressed out
One of my favorite benefits of couples therapy is its impact on stress. Life is stressful. Your relationship should not be stressful. If it is, couples therapy can help you. In therapy couples learn how to be there for one another. They discover how to sooth, support, nurture. They become a strong team and learn how to have each others back. When we make the choice to spend the rest of our life with someone, and live with someone, it is vital that we also learn how to be a source of stress-reduction so that the relationship itself becomes a retreat from the hardships of life. Couples therapy does this and more.
These are just a handful of reasons why couples may want to consider therapy. As mentioned, therapy is good for all couples, not just the ones that are struggling. The positive impact of couples therapy goes beyond just helping the couple connect. When couples transform the way they interact, learn how to cooperatively solve problems, and be there for one another on a deeper level, this enables them to raise happier and healthier families, and thrive as individuals.