What is Couples Therapy?
Couples therapy, sometimes referred to as marriage therapy or couples counseling, is counseling for couples who are in a relationship. The goal of this type of therapy is to help couples of all types recognize and resolve conflicts and improve their relationships. Through couples therapy, you and your partner can learn to make more thoughtful choices and decisions about rebuilding and strengthening your relationship or come to the decision to end your relationship.
Couples counseling is provided by licensed therapists known as marriage and family therapists, or LMFTs. It is often done short term, typically lasting from 12 to 24 sessions. Couples therapy usually includes both partners, but sometimes one partner may also choose to work with the therapist alone. The specific treatment plan and focus of your sessions will depend on your particular needs and challenges.
How Can Couples Therapy Help?
Couples therapy can help people in all types of intimate relationships — regardless of sexual orientation or marriage status.
Some couples seek therapy to strengthen their partnership and gain a better understanding of each other. Therapy can also help couples who plan to get married. Premarital counseling can help couples achieve a deeper understanding of each other and iron out differences before marriage.
In other cases, couples seek therapy to improve a troubled relationship. You can use marriage counseling to help with many specific issues, including:
- Communication problems
- Sexual difficulties
- Conflicts about child rearing or blended families
- Substance abuse
In-Person & Online Couples Therapy Available
Some couples with busy schedules prefer the convenience of online couples therapy in addition to in-person therapy appointments. At LifeStance Health, our couples counselors offer both in-person and online couples therapy services.
The benefits of online couples therapy are making more and more couples consider it as a part of their relationship maintenance, including:
- Repairing emotional connections
- Managing conflict
- Rebuilding trust
What to Expect in Couples Therapy
To get the most out of couples therapy, you and your partner should discuss shared goals – what are you struggling with, do you both want the same things in life, etc. Talk about what you want out of the sessions, accept the challenges and be committed to the effort.
When you meet the therapist for your first session, you and your partner will meet the therapist together. After that initial session together, you may have some individual sessions, and for the rest of your sessions, you and your partner will be working together on your relationship issues.
Typically, couples therapy 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 will want to know the main problems you are experiencing, and what causes most of your stress within the relationship. During that first session, expect to discuss the history of your relationship distress.
How to Prepare for Couples Therapy
Go in with an open mind
You probably have a set way that you think the therapy should go, but be open to it happening differently than you first pictured. Keep in mind that it will take time for the therapist to get to know you and your spouse and to understand your patterns of behavior.
Accept that it is about change
And not just changing your spouse’s behavior, but changing your own as well. It takes two people to make a relationship, and it takes two people to change a relationship. This can be a hard concept to accept.
Make the commitment
Not just with time but with the process. You will need a few months of attending therapy regularly to begin to judge the progress you’re making. Your other commitment is to following through on the process; taking what is said and learned in your sessions and applying them in your relationship.
Who Should Consider Couples Therapy?
Couples that are having the same fight over and over again without resolution might benefit from seeing a therapist. Couples can also go to therapy to help manage a hard decision together, if they’re considering splitting up, or if there’s been a major stressor on the relationship.
Couples therapy can help prevent an aggravation of problems or simply provide a check-in 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.
Couples Therapy FAQ
Some people will have negative experiences in couples therapy. The process of going to couples therapy surfaces some tough conversations and makes people feel vulnerable, which they may interpret as “making things worse”—even if the process may be helpful in the long run.
Certain couples do break up after couples therapy, but sometimes that’s for the best. Some people stay in a relationship just for their children or because they don’t know how to make a change. In these cases, people can be more unhappy staying in a relationship than leaving one—and a separation could be seen as a form of success.
Couples Therapy sessions are facilitated by a trained, licensed clinician, such as a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), licensed professional counselor (LPC), or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). They may call themselves marriage counselors, marriage therapists, or simply therapists.
LifeStance Health employs many highly-trained clinicians that offer Couples Therapy. Take some time to find the right Couples Therapist who you both feel comfortable with and confident in helping support your relationship.
Telehealth has some benefits for couples therapy. It’s convenient, removing the need to commute to a therapist’s office, making it easier for a busy couple to fit sessions into their schedules. It can also make people feel more comfortable and more likely to open up, since they are in a familiar setting that feels safe.
The sessions given over a computer screen may feel less intimate, and many everyday distractions can occur that affect the experience in a negative way (children, pets, phone calls, etc.). Deciding on which method will work best for you and your partner is part of the discussion you can have with your therapist.
Individual therapy is for individuals seeking help with issues such as depression, anxiety, and self-esteem. However, someone may also be there to discover if their marriage is in trouble and what they need to do to resolve that issue.
When a person attends Individual therapy for a relationship issue research indicates that those clients will divorce or leave their partner at a higher rate than if they attended couples therapy. If you are looking to leave your partner, then attend individual therapy, but if you want to consider working on the relationship choose couples therapy to try and work through the issues affecting the marriage so that you can resolve them.
The first reason is often a lack of knowledge about how couples therapy works, how long it takes, or what the goal is for being there. Often people believe that marriage counseling is only used as a last resort before getting a divorce.
Many people consider themselves very private, and don’t want to share an intimate part of their lives with a stranger, while others don’t think that they should have to pay someone else to help them get along.
Most couples wait years before making the commitment to go to couple’s therapy. It’s never too late, but delaying therapy can allow issues to escalate, while attending therapy earlier may have provided some relief for both people. Most couple are not aware of the benefits that therapy can provide, such as improved communication skills, putting old issues to rest, and learning to “fight” fairly.