What is couple therapy?

I get asked that question a lot, and thought the easiest thing is to address it directly. In short, yes it does. I have seen it work for many couples, who thought that nothing would change. Is it easy? I would say it depends on the couple. Some couples are open to learning. They want to improve themselves, and are not just bringing their partner in, so that the other person can change. Either way, it does take work from both sides.

Why do couples decide to do Couples Therapy?

Every couples goes through the highs and lows of relationships. According to research couples fight about things like money, sex, children, household obligations, career and then comes the little things like snoring or peeing on the toilet. You would be surprised that it is not the actual fighting that brings couples to therapy, but the problems they feel they cannot control.

Fighting about these things isn’t bad per se. According to a survey of 1000 adults by the Guardian couples who fight are ten times happier in the relationship than those who stay silent about things. What brings them to therapy is the inability to really discuss things, whether they feel respected, if they keep on going over the same issues without any type of change.

So, what can Couples Therapy really do in these situations?

Understand your patterns

Couples therapy can help you understand how you keep doing the same thing over and over again, with the same results. A therapist can put your patterns under a magnifying glass and help you understand them. One small change can have huge consequences.

Bring a third person in to give you some perspective

Sometimes when you are left to your own devices, it can blow out of proportion. A couple’s therapist can not only act as a mediator, but also as a teacher. A therapist gives you homework assignments and exercises. This allows you to get to know each other better, and also to helps change those patterns that have brought you into therapy in the first place.

Helping you understand what is underneath the iceberg?

One of those things I always mention to couples, is that many of the petty arguments are really not about what you think it is. What you think you see is the top of the iceberg; lack of sex, problems with money, the list goes on and on. What is really going, the bottom of the iceberg; feeling un-important or unloved, worried about the future, feeling unvalidated, getting triggered  etc.. A therapist can help you see what the bottom of the iceberg looks like, and different ways, to not only communicate these things but also work on them.

Couples Therapy Creates Change

Couple therapy can create change. Whether its understanding things about yourself or your partner. It moves you to a place where you feel unstuck, by helping you find alternative solutions. For example, everyone has a different way of dealing with problems. Some are more of the talking kind while others prefer to cool off and talk later. Couple therapy helps couples understand these differences and find alternative ways to communicate.

Agree to Disagree

Yes, it is ok to have different opinions. Each one can be just as valid as the other one. You might notice, that some arguments, aren’t about who is right or wrong, but rather than who gets the last say. Or who ‘wins’. Being the bigger person sometimes entails just learning that decisions can still be made, when people differ in opinion.

So, How does Couples Therapy Session look like?

Couples therapy, usually works, with the couple coming in together and starting work from the first session. I myself, bring couples in during the first session. I get a good assessment from Day 1, and start giving them small and fun exercises to do together. The second session consists of having each person come in separately for half an hour, to talk about things that might have been on their mind during Session 1. Session 3 and onwards, the couple will come in together and constistently be given work to do outside the sessions.

Couples therapy helps you re-build the foundation, you broke with arguments.

Each session is different, but it usually consists on tackling one major problem area in the relationship. One session we might focus on family dynamics, another session we focus on communication, another one on culture etc. Each session is completely different than the last. The couple learns to build their skills with each couple therapy session.

What are the benefits of couple therapy compared to individual therapy?

The main benefit is that you change together. Couple therapists are trained to look at the relationship as the client, rather than two different individual people together. Couples report a very high level of satisfaction after even the first session. 

According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, couples who have attended a couples therapy sessions indicate high levels of patient satisfaction. In a couples survey, over 98 percent reported that received good and even excellent care from a couples therapist. 97 percent of those said that they did receive the help they needed and 93 reported gaining more tools to help them deal with couples problems.

What questions should we ask a Couples Therapist before going to see them?

What Education do they have?

There are many mental health professionals out in the field. Each one has a different type of training. In the case of couples therapy, I always recommend you seek the help of a therapist that is licensed as a LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist). Unlike other mental health professional, they bring a couple and family perspective into treatment. They evaluate the roles and the development of each individual, to get a better understanding of how this is affecting the relationship. They treat the couple as an entity, rather than only as two separate individuals. They will treat and address issues such as addictions, low-self esteem, family cultures, communication issues.

Additionally, it is recommended to also have a therapist that is a licensed sex therapist. This is because sex is often times a symptom of issues in a relationship. A sex therapist has the necessary training to help you in that department too.

What Therapy Modality do they follow?

There are several types of techniques, each do require specialized training.

Gottman Method: It focused on ‘Love Maps’ and helps increase overall respect, communication and affection for each other.

Imago Relationship Therapy: This method uses a combination of behavioral and spiritual techniques. It allows them to understand their own internal imago and how they chose their partner.

Positive Psychology: Looks at positive aspects of the relationship and how they help the relationship.

Negative Therapy: Couples talk about their internal concerns through an external lens. This is then viewed from multiples angels and different objectives.

Systems Theory (Family Therapy): helps couples resolve their issues in the context of their family units. This is where many of the issues actually begin.

How long does each session last and how are they divided up?

Each couples therapist is a little different. The average time couples stay in therapy is about 8-12 session of 1 hour each per week. Some therapist like to do intensive sessions. I have seen, that spreading session out, is much more effective. As one session builds on the other. It also gives couples more time to digest the information and practice it at home, rather than doing everything at once, and risking to forget it quickly.

Will Couples Therapy Work for Us?

Couples therapy only works, if you are ready to take a look at your own actions too.

That really depends on both you and your partner. Are you both ready to commit to even a little change? Are you both eager to learn something new? Couples therapy really only works if both agree that something has to change, and both agree that it takes two to tango. There is often some type of blame, but if both acknowledge that they themselves are not perfect, and could use small adjustments, then there is hope.

It also depends on the type of marital problems you have. Couples therapist is not recommend if there is domestic violence. It may not be as effective if one person has major personality disorder issues. Or if one partner simply refuses to come to therapy.

If your partner does not want to come with you, then you may want to consider doing individual therapy. You will learn why you are so triggered by your partner in the first place. You will also be taught some exercises that you can take home with you, and practice together.

Each couple is different but most couples will benefit from seeing a couples therapist. A licensed couples therapist will give you tools that you will be able to use for the rest of your life.

Monika Kreinberg, Ph.D. is the founder of the Mind Wellness Center. She is a license Marriage and Couple therapist and a Licensed Mental Health Therapist. She is also a certified Sex Therapist. She specializes in working with couples to who have mal-adaptive patterns, suffer from low-self esteem, intimacy issues, couples issues and any sexual problems. Dr. Kreinberg offers individual and couples counseling to help people improve the relationship with themselves and with others. Click to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.