Almost every time I start working with a new couple, one of them says something like, “She really didn’t want to come in today” or “He thinks this is a dumb idea.” The more we talk, the more I hear some common misconceptions about couples therapy (at least with me! I can’t speak for couples therapists). I thought I would address some below, to help future couples in making the decision to see what therapy is all about.
- The therapist is going to side with one of us and beat up on the other one. I’m not paying for someone to tell me how wrong I am! This is the most common worry I hear, and it’s understandable; from my informal polling of clients, this is sadly an experience many have had in previous couples therapy. How I work with couples is about identifying patterns that keep unhealthy behaviors and feelings stuck, figuring out why the pattern got there, then looking for new ways of interacting that would work better for everyone. I don’t view someone as a monster if they have behaved unkindly in a relationship, I just view it as a puzzle for us to solve. I also know it takes two to tango. I have yet to meet a couple where one spouse is perfectly fine and the other is the “problem.” So don’t worry, I’m not going to shame or blame you and I’m going to be very curious how your “perfect” spouse is maintaining the problem, too.
- All we’re going to do is talk about our feelings. Ick. I have been accused of being too analytical/logical in the past, so I understand this one personally. From a practical standpoint, though, we have to talk about feelings. We’re more animals than robots (even when we think we’re perfectly logical and detached), and emotions drive behaviors. If we’re going to make lasting change, not just find new ways to muck things up, we will have to talk about feelings. But trust me, I feel you on this one and I promise it won’t be as terrible as it sounds
- My partner is the problem, I’m just going so that they can get some help. Couples therapy can be a great starting point for identifying issues and maybe later switching over to individual therapy with another provider. However, as I said in #1, I haven’t yet seen a couple where only one of them is the issue and the other person is not part of the picture. You wouldn’t have been attracted to each other and developed a relationship if you were on very different levels of personal growth. So if you work with me, don’t be surprised to find that we will look at both sides and personal histories for an idea of where to go.
- My partner cheated on me/ hits me/ is an alcoholic, etc. I don’t think couples therapy can help us. I have worked with couples experiencing all of these struggles and more. If both sides are motivated to finding a way out, it can absolutely be done. Moreover, for a lot of issues, couples therapy has been shown in studies to be more effective, faster, than individual therapy alone. Safety concerns can be discussed and planned for, and referrals to individual therapists can be made, but I always encourage couples experiencing anything like this to give couples therapy a try.
Hopefully this has put some of your minds at ease about couples therapy, or answered some questions about how I view couples issues and making lasting change. If you would like to set up an initial session to find out more, see the Contact page to the left.