7 Myths About Couples' Therapy

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Couples face constant challenges together. Some are small, and some become insurmountable. Some challenges they can handle on their own, but some require the help of a therapist to successfully work through them. At times couples start feeling like enemies or living like roommates instead of being partners and lovers. If it appears you cannot seem to fix your problems on your own and things are spiraling downward, you should definitely be considering couples' or marriage therapy.

Sadly, some couples who may benefit from therapy are reluctant to get help. One or both of the partners in the relationship resists because of commonly held misconceptions. Here are seven common myths about couples’ therapy and the truths behind the misinformation:

1. Couples therapy has a poor success rate.

Unfortunately, many therapists who work with couples are not trained in a useful model of couples’ therapy. This is a problem within the helping profession as a whole. Seeing a therapist who is not specifically trained and experienced enough to deal with the specialized problems facing a couple may, in fact, have a low success rate.  That is why you must seek out a therapist with a specialty in couples therapy, and who sees a high percentage of couples in their practice. A therapist certified in a research-based form of therapy such as Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT) can bring much relevant information and many effective techniques into your treatment.

Certification in such forms of counseling requires many hours of training and supervision. It's important to ask the right questions and find out if a therapist has extensive specialized training to work with couples. These therapists may charge a premium, and may or may not take insurance, but the difference in the level of treatment can save your relationship.


2. Couples therapy will take “forever.”

Again, with a well-trained therapist using a research-based model, therapy is more of a short-term process than you might think. There are certainly exceptions, and there is no way to predict, but three to six months may have you well on your way to a more stable relationship. It may be somewhat longer if there are significant complexities or psychological symptoms present. Cases involving infidelity or other betrayals may also require more treatment time before you see positive changes and healing. A properly trained therapist may get you on the road to change much faster than a therapist who does not specialize in this area.  It does not have to take “forever” to see results.

3. I'll be blamed for all the problems.

Unless there is some form or abuse or neglect, this is rarely the case with a skilled therapist. Most experienced couples’ therapists will explore the underlying cycles of interaction – i.e., the behaviors of both partners. These collective activities are viewed as "the problem."  Each partner needs to understand his or her role in the maintenance of the pattern in order to change it. Even in cases where there is infidelity, these patterns must be examined.

 It is highly unlikely that one partner will be solely blamed for the relationship problems you are trying to fix.

4. My partner really needs individual therapy first. 

When a partner has significant psychological symptoms, couples therapy may not be the only treatment recommended. However, it can be a good place to start. Effective couples’ therapy can actually help reduce ones' symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and other psychological disorders. A stronger and supportive relationship will naturally reduce the suffering both partners, even when one partner is struggling with a psychological disorder. Couples therapy can run concurrently with individual therapy for one or both partners. They are not mutually exclusive, and one need not precede the other.

5. The therapist will tell us whether we should stay together or break up. 

There are some therapists who may say this if you are having many, many challenges and are considering a commitment, like marriage. If you are already married, be sure to choose a marriage-friendly therapist who values restoring your relationship to health if possible. Many couples therapists will (and should) put this as the first priority in most cases.  The role of a therapist is to help you understand how your relationship has gone wrong and to guide you towards a way to repair it for as long as you are willing to make this effort. The decision of whether to remain in a relationship should always be yours, not your therapist’s.

6. There is no way to fix our problems because they have gone on too long.

Couples wait an average of six years before seeking help for their distressed marriage. However, even such long-standing problems can be resolved with proper treatment. There are methods to assist in addressing old wounds and injuries that have helped many couples. The only couples who are not helped are those where both are unwilling to make an effort. If you are simply looking to check off the box, “We tried therapy," then it will not help you. Regardless of how long you have been in a dysfunctional pattern, if you both are genuinely committed to the treatment process, then there is a lot of hope!

7. If we talk about our problems, things will just get worse.

Chances are that your own attempts to talk about your problems have made things worse. Or, you may even have previous therapy experiences that made things worse. The skills of the therapist and their ability to constructively handle negative emotions and reactivity between couples will be an important factor. The therapist must create a safe space for you and your partner where discussions are productive.

There are many myths people hold on to that prevent them from seeking necessary help for their relationship. It is understandable to not know what to expect from this treatment.  But, you can put the myths aside and bravely enter into couples’ therapy for the best chance to save a failing relationship.

  Your full effort as a couple, combined with a highly qualified therapist, will give you a good shot at success.