Couples counseling can strike fear into the hearts of many people. Couples might picture a therapist who judges them, allies with one partner over the other, gives couples unworkable or fluffy “solutions” to their problems or who means well but is a waste of time and money.
It’s unfortunate that so many couples feel this way. As a couples counselor, I have seen how couples can benefit greatly from counseling. Here is a rundown of some couples counseling fears and myths versus reality. It will help you decide whether or not to start counseling with your partner.
Fear #1: The Therapist Will Judge Us
The therapist has likely heard it all before. Most couples experience somewhat similar issues and fall into patterns that become recognizable to a skilled clinician. Every couple is unique, but your therapist is unlikely to be shocked by anything you share.
Therapists are generally understanding and nonjudgmental. They pride themselves on being open to understanding you without inflicting their views on you.
Fear #2: The Therapist Can’t Think of Any Solution We Haven’t Considered
Most of the time, finding a solution to a specific issue isn’t the main point of couples work. Your therapist can help you figure out new ways to communicate about issues so you don’t fall into toxic patterns of nagging, withdrawal, mocking and contempt, to name a few.
Fear #3: The Therapist Will Not Grasp the Severity of Our Problems
The therapist will likely be optimistic. That’s true.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t understand how deeply you are struggling in your relationship. Therapists have seen many relationships break up because of severe problems. Although they hope that yours will work out — if it can improve in a healthy way — they will always try to acknowledge the depth of your difficulty.
Fear #4: We’ll Be Forced to Do Corny Exercises and Awkward Assignments
It is productive for the therapist to push you out of your comfort zone. There are many styles and approaches.
If something doesn’t work for you, however, be sure to tell your therapist how you feel. The therapist is there to help you in the way you need and can accept help, not to pressure you into activities that feel alien to you.
Fear #5: The Therapist Will Choose Sides and Will Ally with My Partner
A skilled therapist will not pick one partner over the other, although there may be times when one partner is the focus of a session more than the other. In other sessions the focus will switch. No matter how much you may fear that one partner is “the only problem” — or maybe your partner says so — a therapist will not affirm this.
Fear #6: Therapy Will Be a Waste of Time and Money
The only way this is true is if one or both partners don’t commit to the process. If you commit to the process, you can accomplish a lot in a session every week, or even a session every other week.
Think of it this way: this is time that is wholly devoted to your relationship, and may be the only time you and your partner are able to sit down together and focus on one another. This in and of itself is extremely valuable. The addition of a trained professional who can guide you to communicate in new ways will only increase the value of this time spent together.
Fear #7: We’ll Only Fight the Whole Time
Some sessions can devolve into arguments, but your therapist has tools to deflect conflict and return focus to the deeper issues underlying your same old arguments. For couples who are particularly high conflict, working in modes such as Talkspace’s text-based counseling can be a good way to diffuse in-person conflict.
Don’t fear couples counseling. Whatever your situation may be, talking to an experienced and skilled provider could be the most valuable, transformative gift you can give to yourself and your partner.
Dr. Samantha Rodman is the founder of DrPsychMom.com and a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Babble and PsychCentral. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter @DrPsychMom.