Why go to couples therapy?
The benefits of couples counseling can be found in all relationships – not just those in conflict. While couples counseling (and therapy in general) is for everyone, there are some issues that particularly lead to seeking counseling. Whether you are looking to “fine tune” your relationship, finding yourself more often in conflict than not, or feeling distant from your partner, a marriage counselor can help. Here are the 10 most common reasons people seek couples counseling:
Communication is key in relationships. All relationships! But we’re focusing on romantic partnership here. So often in therapy I hear the members of a couple both reaching out for their partner. BUT the way they do it is not clear and ends up sending unintended messages. Have you ever gotten into a fight about the dishes that wasn’t really about the dishes? While words are important (no insults or name calling!), they are only a fraction of what is being said. In fact, the words are only 7% of the communication, your tone and body language make up the majority of the message. By relearning how to communicate with your partner, you can say what you really mean. Through couples counseling you can learn how to clearly communicate your needs and your fears. You will also learn about how your past injuries affect your current relationship, and how to communicate with each other about these. Relearning communication helps get you out of the cycle you and your partner are stuck in, and helps you learn how to show up for one another.
Infidelity is one of the most damaging things for a relationship. Infidelity doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship, but it does signal there needs to be change. A trained marriage therapist helps you process this event, make meaning of where your relationship is and how you got there, and relearn to meet each other’s needs. It is a healing journey, you will not leave your first (or second or third) session feeling reconnected and like the relationship is repaired. Over time, and through working with a therapist, many couples report feeling closer than ever, something they never would have thought possible when they began therapy. Through couples counseling, you will find hope, connection, and other successes along the way.
3. Intimacy Issues
Intimacy is more than just sex – though that is usually a part of it. Intimacy is those shared moments, actions, and words that bring you closer and make you feel connected. Through couples counseling you can improve your intimacy and relearn how to connect with each other. Love languages play a role in intimacy. With couples therapy you can learn about your own love language, your partner’s, and how to incorporate these into your interactions together. With a trained marriage therapist, you will learn, or relearn, how to connect on an emotional, physical, experiential, and spiritual level with your partner. Being vulnerable can be scary. Couples counseling provides a safe space where you will not only have a marriage therapist there to support and guide you, your partner will also learn how to best support you when sharing these vulnerable moments.
4. Sex Issues
Differing libidos, interests, and drives can cause ripples in the relationship. With work, family, friends, social obligations, navigating COVID, paying bills, home projects… the list goes on – it can be easy for your sex drive to be depleted and your sex life to end up pushed to the side. Intimacy and sex go hand in hand. As you learn to increase your intimacy, couples often find that their sex life improves as well. Couples counseling will help you find how you two can give new life to your sex life. As well as communicate with each other outside and inside the bedroom. Your therapist will also help you explore with your partner new ways to connect physically and have more satisfying sex.
A trained marriage therapist is especially helpful in navigating sex issues when there has been trauma. Whether it is a personal trauma experienced by one or more members of the relationship, or a past relationship trauma like infidelity. While you should have your own individual trauma treatment if that applies to you, your marriage and family therapist will help you both navigate how this trauma influences and interacts with your relationship. You can meet our EMDR therapists here
5. Trust Issues
Trust issues might be present because of infidelity in the relationship or a past experience. Trust issues can stem from childhood – for example, if you didn’t have a secure and consistent bond with your caregivers. Whatever the reason, and couples counseling will help you find it, trust issues act like a wall between you and your partner. When there are trust issues, it is so so hard to be open and vulnerable. With the help of a marriage counselor, you can break through this wall and learn to turn towards each other. Overcoming trust issues means learning to show up for your partner, for yourself, and honour boundaries.
6. Outside Factors
Sometimes people have an “affair” that’s not with another person romantically. These kinds of affairs are when something takes the place of the time and mental space that you or your partner would typically devote to each other. This can be a job, a friend, a hobby, or your children. While it is important to devote time, care, and attention to those, too much can lead to a strained relationship. Additionally when you are facing stress with one of these outside factors, like work or from the news, that stress seeps its way into your relationship. Through counseling you will learn tools to not only better cope with these stressors, but also learn how to turn to each other and use these as a point of connection.
7. Blending Families & Co-parenting
When there is a change in family dynamics, therapy can help you adjust to this new normal. Whether that is fine tuning your co-parenting after a separation or bringing together two families with a new marriage, a marriage and family therapist supports and guides you through this change. When bringing two families together, there are so many different personalities, thoughts, feelings, and changes that, some days, it can feel like you’re struggling to get your head above water. A marriage and family therapist acts as a neutral third party to help you and your families make this transition as smooth as possible, and not feel like you are drowning.
8. Help Navigating Big Life Decisions
Therapy is a great place to go when you are navigating big life decisions. It is a safe space where you can explore all the possibilities and realities of your options. This could be a job offer, a potential move, a change in relationship status, expanding your family, or going back to school. These decisions affect both of you. The needs and concerns of all parties are important. Couples counseling can help if you are facing a decision that is adding stress to your relationship or want a neutral third party to help you figure out what makes the most sense for your relationship. Couples counseling also encourages you to make time in your days for your relationship – and helps you work out the logistics of making that a reality. It can be so easy to be caught up in thinking about the big life decisions that you forget to also make time for connection and fun.
Premarital counseling is an incredibly advantageous way to begin this next chapter of your journey together. There are many topics couples don’t think to discuss before getting married. Premarital counseling gives you a safe space to explore these topics. This includes discussing finances, future family planning, family dynamics, roles of each partner, household tasks, and life goals. Premarital counseling also helps you find new ways to connect and strengthen communication with your partner. Through premarital counseling you will gain the tools and skills you need to face obstacles together, and face arguments in your relationship.
There is still a stigma that comes with divorce. Many people report feeling like they failed. In reality, understanding and leaving a relationship that isn’t working can be a success. Seeing a couples counselor while you face divorce can help you keep amicable in the relationship. This is especially important if you have children. With the help of your marriage counselor, you can set yourselves up for successful co-parenting. Your therapist can also help prepare you for how to have the discussion with your children (+family and friends) about your divorce. No matter what, divorce is a stressful event. Therapy can give you the tools to keep from feeling overwhelmed.
Making the decision to start therapy can be difficult for some couples. But even just that step, setting up your first appointment, shows that you value your relationship and yourself. Therapy helps everyone, you don’t need to feel like you are in the thick of things for marriage counseling to feel beneficial. Whenever you start, you will inevitably gain more tools and skills to use in your relationship and in your life.
Article by Sarah O’Leary, AMFT#123449 (supervised by Nicole Asencio, PsyD, LMFT#99795)
About Sarah O'Leary
I am captivated most by the importance of relationships and emotions and their impact on our everyday lives. Both relationships and our emotions help shape who we are as a person. "Relationship" doesn't just mean partner, but rather connections of all kinds. This means everything from strangers, to friends, to partners, and most importantly, the relationship you have with yourself. Emotions are what underlies our thoughts and behaviors, they are the key to understanding ourselves.