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When and Why a Couple May Need Couples Therapy

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Do you feel like something is missing from your primary relationship? Do you wonder if your connection could be deeper? Do you feel as if you have the same argument repeatedly and can’t fully understand or resolve it?

Relationship therapy is a tool that can enhance a relationship and help you and your partner create a more loving partnership. And you don’t have to wait until it feels as if something is deeply wrong between you. Let’s take a closer look at when to seek help, what kind of help exists, and more about the kinds of therapy that can aid you and your partner in creating a deep, supportive, and loving relationship.

Why Couples Seek Help

Newly attached partners can sometimes find the process of joining their lives both an exciting and complex time. Love carries a long way in smoothing over the challenges of integrating two lives, and sometimes conflicts arise that they put on the back burner. 

But those conflicts may not stay on the back burner. That’s where couple therapy can help. Having a couples’ therapist available to you before a relationship hits a rocky path is a valuable tool in learning effective communication skills and honing empathic listening. 

Similarly, you may be in a long-term partnership and sometimes wonder if it’s heading in the right direction. Seeing a couples therapist can help you and your partner find the challenging areas that may be preventing you from moving forward together. A therapist can help you both work through the related issues that have become sticking points and help you go from an okay partnership to a better one. 

And you may not feel that you and your partner need a therapist, that things may be a bit challenging but good enough. But as Geode Health points out, the best time to find a therapist may be before you think you need one. Working together on communication glitches, differences in needs or desires, changes in your relationship that arise from work demands or child needs—all of these may not signal something “wrong,” but may show opportunities for improvement.

Choosing The Therapist

Choosing a therapist may sound daunting. You’re inviting someone into your private lives to talk over some of the most intimate of details. That alone can create feelings of uneasiness. 

Because this is such an important undertaking—finding the right person for both of you to share with, seek guidance from, find understanding with—do some research before making a definitive choice. Think about you and your partner. Is there a gender or cultural preference in a therapist? Would the therapist’s background matter to either of you? Do either of you have a religious preference in a therapist? Do you want a therapist to use a particular type of therapy? Additional, practical factors may influence your choice: How far is their office? Do they do online counseling? 

Once you’ve answered some of these questions, start asking people you know for referrals. Close family members, friends, and co-workers might be a good starting point. Ask whom they might recommend, whether they had preferences in gender, culture, religion, and how important it was to the therapy process. Your physician or internist are also great sources for information on couple therapists. Many maintain lists of mental health professionals that do couples therapy. Local online publications and neighborhood newsletters may advertise the services of  therapists  as well.  

Different Types of Couples Therapy

While a therapist may have a preferred means of helping couples work toward better communication or improved problem solving, a versatile, experienced therapist won’t rely on only one treatment method. Even so, it’s good to know some of the more commonly used treatment methods in couples therapy. 

The Gottman Method

Based on 40 years of research on over 3000 couples, psychologists John and Julie Gottman have created specific ways of helping couples move forward through their Gottman Method. It focuses on managing unresolved conflicts through positive communication, and helping couples ensure that contempt and defensiveness are mitigated and replaced with turning toward one another and improving conflict management.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

Popularized by psychologist Sue Johnson through her book “Hold Me Tight,” EFT helps couples examine their bond through the lens of attachment theory, one of the reigning paradigms in the study of emotional connectedness. EFT helps couples see their romantic love as an attachment bond; helps them repair that bond; and helps them recognize, cultivate, and grow bonding opportunities that promote long-lasting love and respect. 

Imago Relationship Therapy

Psychologists and partners Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt developed Imago Relationship Therapy, outlined in their book “Getting The Love You Want,” to explore the feeling that many of us seek relationships based on childhood attachments, often as a means of “fixing” the original, flawed attachment. This therapeutic technique suggests that understanding each other’s childhood wounds can help a couple work around them, be more reflective, and stop falling into the trap of duplicating old issues in the vain hope of resolving them.

Before and During Your First Session

Before your first session, you will want to contact the therapist to discuss their fees, insurance providers they partner with, whether they are licensed, their background and experience, and how long an average session might last. 

Your very first session might be together or your couples therapist may ask to see each of you individually. This enables the therapist to hear each of you as individuals, come to an understanding of how each of you views the relationship, and begin seeing the full scope of issues each of you may have in the partnership. 

How To Tell If a Therapist Is a Bad Fit

Sometimes couples don’t mesh with a therapist. If one or both of you isn’t comfortable with the therapist’s personality or simply feel discomfort during the appointment, don’t be shy about finding another therapist. Let the therapist know as soon as possible so you can revisit your shortlist of candidates and make a quick change.

How To Identify Results

How do you measure results of couples therapy? First, it’s important to set goals, expectations, and timelines with your therapist. They will ask you what you want out of therapy, what your goals are, and what you feel a good timeline for achieving those goals might be. Periodically, you should assess together how you and your partner are progressing toward those goals. 

If after a period of time and mutual effort you feel little headway is being made, make this a discussion point in a session. Quitting abruptly doesn’t enable any of you to reconsider strategies. Talking through feelings that hopes, expectations, and goals are not being met gives all of you an opportunity to reconnect and reassess. Goals can be adjusted; timelines can be changed if all of you agree. 

Even if whatever sent you to therapy can’t be fixed, you will still learn much as the process moves forward. Don’t be surprised if you see changes in yourself and/or your partner that could lead to a better relationship or a better life for yourself.

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Christopher Stern
Christopher Stern is a Washington-based reporter. Chris spent many years covering tech policy as a business reporter for renowned publications. He has extensive experience covering Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commissions. He is a graduate of Middlebury College. Email:[email protected]

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