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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
  • Anger
  • Infidelity

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:

  • Convenience
  • Affordability
  • Flexibility
  • Repairing emotional connections
  • Managing conflict
  • Communication
  • Rebuilding trust
  • Appreciation

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.