New Start Therapy
5 Common Errors About Couples Therapy

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There are lots of myths and misconceptions attached to couples therapy that can get in the way of learning how to reconnect with your partner. The good news is that a skilled couples therapist can help many relationships that have hit a rough patch. Let's take a look at 5 common misconceptions that make couples reluctant to get help, even though they would likely benefit from couples counseling.

1. Only Couples On The Verge Of Breakup Go To Therapy

Maybe you believe that a relationship has to be “a certain level of bad” to warrant the time and expense of hiring a professional to coach you through your difficulties. The trouble is, when couples wait too long to get help, and therapy is a last-ditch attempt before giving up, it is much more difficult to stop the destructive momentum and turn things around.

So if you don't see yourself on the verge of breaking up, that's wonderful! It is much easier to treat a problem at the beginning stages. Besides helping to repair impasses, a lot of the work we do in therapy is preventive, helping partners work together efficiently and successfully for the long-term by addressing small issues that have the potential to grow if left untreated. Some couples even find it helpful to have regular relationship check-ups to ensure things are working properly in their relationship.

2. The Therapist Will Take Sides

Unlike friends and family, a couples therapist's job is to act as a mediator who doesn't hear things from just one side, or have a stake in the outcome. While a therapist might at times have an easier time understanding or relating to what one partner is saying, skilled therapists monitor and manage their own feelings and continually strive to deeply understand both perspectives. A trained couples therapist understands that nothing happens in a vacuum, each partner plays a role in every issue, and is therefore able to recognize how both partners contribute to their particular dance of anger or disconnection. Successful couples counseling invariably requires each partner to understand his or her role in the couple’s distress.

3. Couples Therapy Will Stir Things Up And Only Make Things Worse

Many couples have experienced that their own attempts to talk about their problems together have made things worse, so this concern is understandable. Discussing challenging aspects of your relationship evokes a lot of difficult feelings, and no one can give a guarantee for your relationship succeeding. However, for relationships that are already deeply troubled, going on as you have been is just not emotionally sustainable. Many even feel that an amicable end would be better than to continue battling one another.

It is crucial that your hurtful pattern does not continue, and this is where couples therapy comes in. It is also important to remember that while therapy changes the dysfunctional dynamic and stirs things up, not doing therapy also carries a big risk: Hoping that your problems get better on their own is in fact a big gamble! I don't get to make a lot of promises, but one thing I can say with certainty is that untreated relationship problems tend to get worse with time.

4. We Should Be Able To Manage Our Own Issues

It can be difficult to admit—even to yourself—that your relationship has problems and you might need help. There is still a stigma attached to seeing a “shrink” to help with personal problems. (And portrayals of both therapists and patients on television don't help with the stigma!) But just like with physical ailments some situations are too complex to manage on your own and require the expertise of a impartial third party for guidance. Whether therapy helps you to sort through mixed feelings, or provides tools to communicate more effectively, it can be very beneficial to be coached by someone who is trained in this process, especially when your own efforts have broken down in the past. Working things out is an uphill battle, so allow yourself to accept the assistance of a skilled professional!

5. We Are Too Far Gone; The Situation Is Hopeless

Some couples feel that their problems have gone on so long, and there is no hope of improving their relationship. With a therapist's skill set and both partners' effort, even long-standing problems can be resolved. The intensity of negative feelings does not necessarily indicate that a relationship can’t be improved upon. The only clear sign that couples therapy won’t help is if one or both partners have become so disengaged that they are no longer willing to make an effort.

A desire to break up usually stems from not wanting to tolerate how things are going now. There is nothing wrong with that! Anger and unhappiness can be valuable indicators that something is wrong and needs to change. But what if you could learn how to express what is painful and unacceptable for you in an effective manner so you can actually be heard and understood by your spouse?

You might be feeling very little hope for your relationship right now. I see my job as holding that hope for you for a while, until you can see whether it is possible to rebuild your commitment.The issue right now isn’t so much whether you’re committed for life, but whether you can commit to working hard for a while to try and see what can be saved. Once you have worked hard on changing yourself, you are also in a much better position to declare your marriage or relationship hopeless when your partner is not responding in kind.

So What Can You Expect From Good Couples Therapy?

Couples therapy teaches you how to listen and talk about difficult topics with your partner, and work to heal past wounds. You will learn the difficult art of how to stay grounded when hearing something that floods your body with strong emotions. Effective couples counseling empowers you to speak up for yourself and negotiate for your needs and desires, while empowering your partner to do the same. The therapy session provides a training ground to practice making the stretch of putting yourself into your partner's shoes, which is especially difficult when you see things differently.

A couples therapist is trained to create a safe space where problems can be discussed productively. In many cases, the therapist will be able to help partners see each other’s struggles in new ways that open the door to healing and reconciliation. They will help to uncover underlying dynamics and destructive patterns in your interactions with one another, and help you break out of them, providing new tools to communicate your needs without falling into familiar conflict patterns. This works to restore trust, allowing you to rediscover the joy, surprise, and closeness in your relationship.

Many thanks to Ruth Jampol and Danielle Adinolfi for providing inspiration for this post!

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