When you’ve reached a crossroads in your relationship, you can feel it. Perhaps you’ve started to argue with your partner more than ever… or worse, fallen into silence.
Should you work on things or walk away? It’s a tricky question to answer. But if you want to give your relationship a chance, consider seeking help before you throw in the towel. Couples therapy could be the solution.
Unfortunately, some people are skeptical about couples therapy while others are overly optimistic, thinking that the therapist will “fix” the relationship. Neither of those assumptions is quite accurate.
The truth is, there are no absolutes or guarantees, but couples therapy can be very effective given the right conditions. First, that means you need to find not just any therapist, but one who specializes in couples counseling. Then, you learn to put aside your worries. Thankfully, we can help you with both.
Below are some of the biggest doubts people have about couples therapy — seven myths that people often believe, along with the realities of what to expect. To help separate fact from fiction, Dr. Parul Patel, a licensed psychologist who specializes in couple’s therapy with Orange County Health Psychologists, weighs in.
Myth #1: People only go to couples therapy as a last resort.
Couples actually seek therapy at various stages. Many go for premarital counseling, which research shows can result in a 30 percent increased chance at marriage success.
Others might come to a therapist’s office when they’re experiencing deep resentment due to communication issues or are in shock after the discovery of an affair. Another common reason is when one or both partners just start to feel distant.
The only unlikely time for couples to seek therapy together is in the very beginning. “Therapy is rarely sought during the courtship period or the honeymoon stage,” says Patel.
Myth #2: The therapist will act as a judge.
If you hope that a therapist can help you “settle” a dispute by telling you who’s “right,” think again. The therapist isn’t really a judge, but instead supports the couple to reach their goals.
While every case is different, a couples therapist usually provides coaching and guidance to you and your partner with the crucial aim of “breaking the dysfunctional cycles that happen in the home” says Patel.
Finally, what drives couples therapy is simply whatever you and your partner want to get out of it. Says Patel, “Just like individual therapy, the therapist’s goal is to help patients get to their goals — as long as the goals defined support the well-being of the patient.”
Myth #3: You have to bring your partner to get results.
You might be surprised to hear this, but even if your partner is reluctant initially, couples therapy can still help. Oftentimes the best-case scenario is to have both partners committed and engaged in the process, but “it is possible to create shifts in the relationship based on the effort of the engaged partner alone,” says Patel.
Myth #4: The sessions will be biased toward the partner who initiated therapy.
“Of course this depends on individual therapists, but most experienced couples therapists will be aware of this concern and address it adequately with the couple, and/or refer to other therapists for a collaborative effort to avoid this situation,” explains Patel.
Myth #5: There’s no reason to go if you’re already divorcing.
As anyone who’s been through a divorce probably knows, not everyone has a drama-free “conscious uncoupling” at first. Speaking with a couples therapist can help you maintain civil interaction as you work through your final issues. For instance, how will you co-parent your children? How will you communicate as you work on things like dividing your assets?
You also may need support to help you both get closure. Once you decide to divorce, your feelings may still be raw and need to be processed. You also need to understand the dysfunctional patterns that collapsed the marriage, so you can grow from it. Involving your ex-partner in your therapy process can bring a certain additional level of healing and perspective.
Finally, involving a couples therapist can be a safe way to address any relationship wounds. This may be a safe way for both of you to talk about what bothers you — and be heard — without the conversation melting into chaos. Take advantage of it.
Myth #6: Couple’s therapy can save an abusive relationship.
Couples therapy can’t improve an abusive relationship until the abuse stops. “Safety concerns are primary in a physically abusive relationship,” says Patel. “Once the safety, reporting rights, legal aspects, social work support, anger management, and psychological health are addressed, therapy can help heal the individuals and relationship if desired, depending on the situation and severity.”
Myth #7: Couple’s therapy just doesn’t work.
It is more difficult if you aren’t open to it. However, if you are, then it can work wonders. As Patel puts it, “No one size fits all. Couples can achieve insight, remorse, repair, breaking of dysfunctional cycles, creating healthy communication and healing as they develop understanding and grow in their relationship. A couples therapist will assist with these aspects.” If your emotional health and your relationship are less than optimum, it’s worth trying.
Also, you might consider a Couples Retreat if you want to experience faster shifts or if you’re in the middle of a crisis. “A couples retreat is like going to the ER, while regular therapy may be like going to a doctor’s office,” says Patel. Her multi-day intensive Couple Care retreats are held in Orange County, California. The momentum that builds in the short timeframe is highly effective in breaking through barriers such as chronic distress or silence and distancing. Both you and your partner will likely come out of the experience with deeper empathy and understanding of one another — which is a “win” no matter what you decide to do afterward.
—Written by Ekua Hagan for Orange County Health Psychologists
About Parul M. Patel, Psy.D.
Dr. Parul Patel is a licensed psychologist with over 14 years of experience. She received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Systems, from Alliant International University.
Dr. Patel specializes in couples therapy. She helps to shift pain-causing patterns, and to heal from emotional distress, violence, contempt, control and abuse, loneliness and lack of intimacy, or the weight of childhood or past trauma. She works with individuals, couples and families on their journey of recovery from relationship wounds.
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