Should You Go to Couples’ Therapy?

Whether it’s a friend who’s working things through with her long-term partner or your addiction to Showtime’s Couples Therapy, many of us are couples therapy-curious. It may sound very alluring to have a kind of “referee” who can weigh in during your most difficult relationship conversations, or help you explain where you’re coming from. But it can also feel like an intimidating step to take — does going to couples therapy mean you’re going to break up? Not necessarily — a couples therapist doesn’t need to be a last-ditch emergency measure. Instead, a good couples therapist can be a long-term support that helps you both feel more resourced and supported in your relationship — here’s how.

You want to work on your communication

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Communication is the foundation of a healthy relationship — and it’s also very difficult to do well. Even those of us who work hard at direct communication and feel that we put a lot of effort into this area can find ourselves struggling with different conflict styles, apology languages, or the divide between ask vs. guess cultures.

A couples therapist can be enormously helpful in helping you resolve more than just the current issue you’re facing, giving you tools, communication strategies, and realtime feedback on them so that you and your partner can successfully connect and communicate even outside of the session.

You keep having the same fight over and over and over

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Dishes, parenting, relationships with in-laws: most relationships have a few tough issues that fights crop up over again and again. For some of us, it feels like more than that — we may find that this one issue is sucking the joy and connection out of the rest of the relationship, or causing compounding resentment over time. 

The recurring fight may have expanded to something that’s starting to seem like a core dynamic of the relationship — like an anxious/avoidant attachment cycle. It may feel like it’s come to a point where the general health of your relationship hinges on successfully working through this issue. 

This may be a good time to seek out a couples’ therapist — if you’ve already been working on resolving this issue with your partner and neither of you feel like progress is being made, a couples therapist can help bring in a new, non-judgemental perspective, and offer fresh insights that help you shift your thinking and behavior on this topic. Ideally, a couples’ therapist may be able to teach you both new strategies for dealing with this issue — or point to work that it would be helpful for you to do in solo therapy that would move the needle on this concern, like pursuing sex therapy or trauma therapy.

You’re struggling with sex or intimacy

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Not having enough sex is one of the most common issue facing couples across the board — if you’re struggling with mismatched libidos, or feeling challenged by disparate sexual interests, you’re far from alone. 

Sex therapists are devoted to working through challenges specific to the bedroom, and can be a great resource here, but a competent couples therapist should also be able to help you both untangle this complex and sensitive issue. While disparate desire and libido are a common concern, a couples’ therapist can also help identify issues outside the bedroom that may be impacting your disconnect — unspoken resentment, areas of inequity, or dealing with difficulty in communicating about sex. 

For many of us, even if we’re great communicators, shame and sex negativity make it much more difficult to talk openly when it comes to sex — a supportive professional can help you work through these delicate and courageous conversations about intimacy and sexual connection in your relationship.

You’re facing a major relationship decision

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Often we imagine that people go to couples therapy because they’re facing down the possibility of breaking up. This can be an important function of therapy, and many people who go to couples’ therapy when their relationship feels like it’s at a breaking point find it to be enormously helpful. 

Though couples’ therapy doesn’t necessarily function as a magic talisman against breaking up, a couples counselor can help you sort through why you’re facing this decision and how to navigate through the healthiest path for both of you in the midst of heady emotions. If you do decide to break up, a couples counselor can help mediate the process and make it as healthy, kind and equitable as possible — and make it more likely you can stay friends afterwards, if that’s what you want.

Couples counseling can also be a place to process big decisions even when they aren’t as scary as breaking up. Even developments you’re looking forward to, like moving in together or deciding to have a child, can bring up complex feelings for both of you and prove challenging to navigate for the first time. Talking about these big transitions in a supportive space with a trained therapist can make them more manageable, and help you avoid the pitfalls that couples can sometimes fall into at these pivotal times.

One major relationship decision many find it helpful to discuss in a counseling context is the choice to open a relationship or pursue non-monogamy from a previously closed/monogamous relationship. This can be an exciting step that’s fulfilling for many people — and also, even when all parties involved are enthusiastic about it, can bring up unexpected emotional reactions and require new relational skills and strategies. A couples’ therapist can help you build the foundation of trust and communication for this step, and work through any challenges that crop up as you move through it.

You’re trying to recover from a major rupture or breach of trust

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When relationships experience major ruptures, like cheating, breaches of trust, or extremely challenging conflicts, it’s actually very common to decide you want to stay together and try to work through it. However, we may find that this is easier said than done — even if we’ve made the intellectual decision to move on, we may struggle with letting go of resentment and anger, and we may struggle to feel truly safe with our partner in our nervous system. 

A couples’ therapist is a great resource to support you both through this vulnerable time. A skilled therapist can help you process and express feelings of anger, hurt, and shame so that you can move through them and let go of them for good — and you may be surprised to find couples therapy can also help address some of the issues that may have led to the rupture in the first place.

Recommended Products:

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples

Attachment Theory in Practice: Emotionally Focused Therapy (Eft) with Individuals, Couples, and Families

10 Principles for Doing Effective Couples Therapy

For More Articles Check Out These Recent Posts:

Should My Partner and I Break Up?

What to Do When You and Your Partner Aren’t Having Sex

Communication Signs of Infidelity

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