We all know romantic relationships are hard work. Like cars, they require regular maintenance to keep them running well. If there is a problem, it’s best to have it repaired right away to avoid further complications down the road.
Often we can do some of the basic maintenance and repairs ourselves. Other times, behavioral couples therapy and the help of a licensed professional may be the best for the relationship. This type of relationship counseling is emotionally focused on improving relationship satisfaction and conflict resolution between a couple. The ultimate goal for a counselor is to help build a healthy relationship and solve any issues that may be present.
What Is Couples Therapy?
Couples therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which a licensed therapist with clinical experience working with couples, most often a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), helps people involved in a romantic relationship gain insight into their relationship, resolve conflict, and improve relationship satisfaction utilizing a variety of therapeutic interventions. Although the practice of behavioral couples therapy may vary depending on the therapist’s theoretical orientation, all couples therapy tends to involve the following general elements:
- A focus on a specific problem (i.e. sexual difficulties, Internet addiction, intimacy, jealousy)
- Active participation on the part of the therapist in treating the relationship itself, rather than each individual separately.
- Solution-focused, change-oriented interventions early on in treatment.
- A clear establishment of treatment objectives.
Research conducted by the American Association of Marriage and Family concluded that over 97% of surveyed couples got the help they needed from couples therapy. In addition, 93% of couples said therapy gave them more effective tools for dealing with conflict.
What To Expect in Couples Therapy
Don’t know what to expect in each couples therapy session? Typically, the first couples therapy session begins with some standard interview questions regarding the history of the relationship as well as deep diving into each partner’s family-of-origin, values, and cultural background. The therapist or marriage counselor also might use the initial sessions for crisis intervention if necessary.
The couples therapist will then assist the couple in identifying the issue that will be the focus of treatment, establishing treatment goals and planning a structure for treatment for each counseling session.
During treatment, the therapist will help the couple gain insight into the relational dynamics creating the problem and guide both partners to understand their roles in the dysfunctional interactions. This greater insight on relationship issues and distress will help them change the way they perceive the relationship and each other.
Although gaining insight is important, another crucial aspect of couples therapy involves actually changing behaviors. Couples therapists will often assign partners homework to apply the skills they have learned in therapy to their day-to-day interactions.
Most couples come away from therapy with greater knowledge of their relational patterns and with the necessary skills to effectively communicate and problem-solve with their partners.
Who Should Consider Couples Therapy?
Couples therapy is beneficial for any kind of relationship, including:
- Straight or gay relationships
- Interracial relationships
- Young teen or college relationships
- Relationships with a large age gap
- Relationships that are at any stage, including dating, engaged, or married
For example, a recently engaged couple might find premarital counseling an invaluable opportunity to address relationship expectations prior to getting married. Another couple, together 25 years, might discover marriage counseling as an effective way for them to regain a sense of excitement and romance in their relationship.
Couples therapy can resolve a current problem, prevent an exacerbation of problems or simply provide a “check-up” for a happy couple that is experiencing a period of transition or increased stress. Common areas of concern addressed in couples therapy include issues with money, parenting, sex, infidelity, in-laws, chronic health issues, infertility, gambling, substance use, emotional distance and frequent conflict.
Should I go to counseling or get a divorce?
If your current relationship is shaky, getting a divorce isn’t the only option: couples counseling can salvage a struggling marriage. If you have any desire to stay married to your spouse, you should go to couples counseling. Couples counseling, also known as marriage counseling, could be what your relationship needs to heal old wounds and start fresh. Counseling can be a meaningful way to restore the foundation of the marriage and clarify whether divorce is the appropriate decision.
Why Do Couples Delay in Receiving Therapy?
Unfortunately, many couples try therapy when a significant amount of damage has already been done. Maladaptive relational patterns have already become entrenched, the emotional bond between partners has been severely weakened and there is a high level of resentment due to unresolved past conflicts. The list can go on.
Research indicates that the average couple is unhappy for six years before seeking couples counseling.
This is not to say that couples therapy cannot be effective at resolving such long-standing problems. Nonetheless, it will be a much more challenging and time-consuming endeavor, requiring a great deal of commitment and effort from both partners.
Misconceptions about what couples therapy is and its purpose can also prevent couples from seeking help early on. Some might think couples therapy is only meant for very serious issues affecting a relationship, including infidelity or addiction. Others may view it as a last-ditch effort before making the decision to end the relationship.
Some think of it as a way to force their partner to change because they are “the problem.” Many people are not aware of the benefits of couples therapy in treating a wide variety of relational issues. They don’t know how instrumental it can be at improving overall relationship satisfaction that affects individual mental health.
How is Online Couples Therapy Different from Traditional Couples Therapy?
At Talkspace we are not only revolutionizing the way therapists have practiced couples therapy, but we are also seeking to reduce the stigma of receiving couples counseling and make couples therapy more accessible and affordable.
Online couples therapy has several advantages that are not afforded in traditional face-to-face couples therapy. First, there is the opportunity for much more communication given the ability to share as much as one wants, without any interruptions. The ability to process one’s own thoughts before texting them and sharing them in the therapy room results in partners communicating more appropriately and more efficiently.
The format also provides each partner the time and space to process their partner’s response and reflect on what they’ve “heard” rather than only focusing on what they are going to say. Some individuals also find that they can explain themselves better through writing, allowing for more open and honest emotional expression. Talkspace couples therapists have also found this format allows for much more productive conversations, which results in much quicker progress in treatment.
Online couples therapy is also ideal for couples where one or both partners frequently travel or have very different schedules and are unable to coordinate a time to attend couples therapy sessions together. Additionally, couples with children who have difficulty finding childcare can greatly benefit from the accessibility of Talkspace.
In-person couples therapy is also not generally covered by many health insurance plans, and can be quite costly for many families after only a few sessions. Talkspace’s online couples therapy can be a much more affordable alternative.
About Marriage and Family Therapists. Aamft.org. Published 2015. https://www.aamft.org/About_AAMFT/About_Marriage_and_Family_Therapists.aspx