Debunking Couples Therapy Myths
I recently read an article about four major myths about couples therapy in Psychology Today. Therapy tends to be less-understood by the general public. This blog summarizes the article and explores my personal thoughts about couples therapy myths.
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Considering to go to therapy takes a lot of courage and bravery, and you may have heard the sentiment from therapist before. Often times, therapists have been in the counselling chair themselves, and so we tend to have an understanding around the long process of contemplation leading to research and finally taking action. (And I’m just talking about individual counselling.) To suggest to a partner that you might benefit from couples therapy can spark a fight just mentioning the words. It’s common for people to have internal biases about counselling, and suggesting couples therapy to your partner might bring out their defensive side. They might also have a fear--and you might as well--that couples therapy is a place to determine whether you stay together or break up. Let’s explore some common myths.
Couples therapy myth #1: The end of a relationship must be near for anyone to go to couples therapy.
While a lot of couples do come to counselling when their relationship is at a critical point, this isn’t the entry requirement for a couples counseling. I’ve worked with plenty of couples who come to therapy to work on an already good relationship, or to learn some strategies to help them overcome a conflict in gridlock. I’ve also worked with couples who are preparing for marriage.
According to the Psychology Today article, a study found the 20% of couples in therapy aren’t sure they want the relationship to continue, and 14% of partners in a relationship start therapy to figure out if the relationship can be saved. Research from the American Journal of Family Therapy found that about 50% of couples in therapy reported a restoration of the relationship bond they once had but thought was missing, while 30% reported feelings of a overall stronger relationship.
The issues that commonly lead to couples seeking therapy include: intimacy, enhancing physical connection, and learning relationship skills. In my practice, the most common issues I see relate to managing blended family issues, learning to communicate and listen to decrease conflict, and rekindling physical intimacy.
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Couples therapy myth #2: The second myth is that going to couples therapy will result in being blamed and verbally attacked.
This should never happen with a professional and ethical therapist, ever. One of the goals of a couples therapist is to create a safe space so that both partners can speak and be listened to and feel mutually supported by the therapist. In individual therapy and in couples therapy, a strong bond with the therapist predicts the most positive outcomes from therapy. Having a strong bond with a therapist doesn’t mean that they are going to side with your every idea, though. The therapist's objective is to be a neutral party and to help you navigate challenges in the relationship. This might require introducing new perspectives and offering guidance through techniques to help you navigate conflict points and repair past hurts.
Couples therapy myth #3: Couples shouldn’t have to go to couples therapy because you should be strong enough to repair problems on your own.
A version of this idea also exists for individual therapy. Therapists believe that asking for help is a mark of strength because it shows humility and your ability to use resources available to you. There’s nothing impressive about spinning your wheels when you could ask for support.
Not all relationship dynamics are obvious to the people in the relationship. It’s not uncommon for clients to come to therapy with an identified problem, only to learn that something else is actually the root of the problem. This can happen in individual therapy and in couples therapy. For example, a lack of physical intimacy can be tied to past hurts in the relationship that haven’t been processed.
We aren’t always the best judges of the causes of our issues. A couples therapist can provide an outside perspective to help improve your relationship. People require community, so the idea that a couple should be able to solve all their problems on their own overlooks this fundamental and basic human need. We normally seek support and guidance with finances, dental care, health advice, coaches, etc., because we don’t always assume that we know what is best. It makes sense to treat relationships with that same approach.
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Couples therapy myth #4: Couples therapy won’t work so it isn’t worth the hassle.
Here’s the thing. It’s normal to feel skeptical about finding resolution to the problem that you feel stuck on because you've exhausted all your resources. Success in couples therapy is not guaranteed which is a risk that comes with engaging in the process. Couples therapy approaches are backed by research, so you may feel some comfort knowing that couples therapists have resources and training to draw from. Most therapists will describe their research and training on the websites or in a consultation. If you aren’t sure, just ask. And you can learn about their approach to couples therapy usually with a Google search.
Bonus myth: The therapist is going to side with your partner.
Similar to the myth about being blamed, this myth assumes that the therapist is not a neutral party in the relationship. Couples therapists are trained to be mediators with skills and resources to help a couple thrive. A well-trained, ethical couples therapist will identify strengths and growth opportunities in both partners. Even if one partner is skeptical about couples therapy or standoffish in session, a good couples therapist will work to create a therapeutic bond and address any hesitancy toward the process of couples therapy.
The Psychology Today article highlights some of the common myths about couples therapy that might prevent people from seeking help. If you're on the fence about couples therapy, learn about couples experts. Get familiar with the free knowledge that’s available on podcasts, apps, and reputable websites. Learning different ideas that can help you have a successful and satisfying relationship might give you the confidence needed to start couples therapy.
Please note: Online couples therapy isn't suitable for all couples. Contact me to determine if online couples therapy is a good option for you.
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