Couples therapy, as with just about any other form of therapy, often gets a bad rap, which is pretty silly, especially when you consider the fact that even the happiest of couples can benefit from time with a counselor. In fact, experts say that a stop at the therapist's office for premarital counseling is one of the best things a soon-to-be married couple can do for their future marriage. "Couples therapists can help the couple identify areas of strength and weakness and work through differences in values and partners can learn to be assertive and listen without becoming defensive," explains Stephanie Buehler, MPW, PsyD, a licensed psychologist at Hoag for Her Center for Wellness. "Most every couple can benefit from learning good communication and problem-solving skills."
Feeling a little anxious about the idea of going to couples therapy? You're far from alone. Here, experts unveil the totally normal fears that are associated with attending couples therapy, plus how to deal with them.
Therapy means you've failed at marriage.
That pesky stigma that comes along with therapy, especially couples therapy, might lead you to believe that you're decision to seek out help means you've failed at marriage, but this is not true. It's all a matter of perspective, explains Gina Midyett, Ph.D., mental health counselor and psychotherapist specializing in individual, couples, and family therapy. Instead of looking at seeking therapy as a defeat, she recommends looking at it as a step towards a more successful relationship. "Not only will it make your relationship better, but it will also help you understand yourself in a deeper way," she adds. "This will help you be more patient and not take things as personal when you are in a disagreement with your partner."
You wonder whether your relationship can even be saved.
"Many people ask on the intake call if they think their situation can be helped," says Buehler. "My philosophy is this: If both partners are committed to making the relationship work and if they follow up with the therapist's recommendations, they should benefit from treatment." Although couples therapy might not resolve your problems in the first, third, or sixth session, you will likely see improvement if you follow with the program, she adds.
You'll find out that one of you is mentally ill.
According to Buehler, the possibility that one or both partners will get labeled with a mental disorder keeps some people out of treatment. "It is true that the therapist will be assessing for depression, anxiety, trauma, AD/HD, and so on to see if there is an undiagnosed problem that is interfering with the couple's relationship, however the point is not to blame one partner over the other," she says. "The goal is to get appropriate help and to educate the couple how to cope if someone is prone to depression, worry, and so on."
Your therapist will judge you or your partner.
Your therapist's goal is to help improve your relationship. She or he is going to get nowhere in that mission by sitting back and judging either one of you. "A therapeutic alliance with both members of a couple is something therapists work very hard to establish and maintain in couples therapy," explains Nicole Prause, Ph.D, neuroscientist researching human sexual behavior, addiction and the physiology of sexual response and founder of Liberos LLC. "We're very aware that someone who feels merely blamed and not understood will not engage meaningfully in therapy." If you begin to feel a therapist is playing favorites, she recommends bringing it up in therapy. "A good therapist will help evaluate that feeling and improve your feelings about coming to therapy," she says.
You'll have to rehash you childhood.
If you're straying away from therapy because you want to avoid talking about your childhood, know this: There is currently no research-supported couples treatment that includes regression approaches, which dig through your distant past to seek understanding of your present, according to Dr. Prause. "It is not that these events might not be mentioned, but good couples therapists will not spend time dissecting the meaning and current impact of parental divorce or similar events," she adds.