Relationships are hard. They involve at least two people, which means differing life experiences, differing perspectives, differing wants and needs. Sometimes, when these relationships become stuck, it can be helpful to have an objective party who can help sort through the stuck-ness. This speaks to all sorts of relationships, not just romantic relationships. Family therapy, and individual therapy, can be very helpful in navigating interpersonal relationships and dynamics. This post, however, will focus on the experience of couples therapy, specifically for romantic and/or sexual relationships. While relationships come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, with varying levels of exclusivity, partners, and expectations, generally there are common themes when people seek a professional to help with their relationship. Listed below are some of the reasons why couples therapy may be sought after:
Premarital Counseling: While some faith group organizations offer their congregants pre-marital counseling, many adults find that it is helpful to seek psychotherapy as they plan and merge lives together. Research has suggested that couples who engage in premarital counseling will help increase the value placed on the marriage and relationship, determine a plan for if they need help in the future, it helps problem solve, and can lower risk of marital dissatisfaction and divorce. Even if conventional or legal marriage is not the path a relationship is headed towards, having the opportunity to practice effective communication and conflict resolution before the stakes are raised with children, merged financial decisions, and blended family dynamics can be quite beneficial.
Communication Breakdowns: This is identified as the number one reason couples seek couples counseling. A standard goal of communication is to express your thoughts and feelings, to get your point across. Yet that doesn’t include listening and receptive communication in the definition. If both members of a relationship are struggling to be heard, a therapist’s intervention of teaching reflective listening, and pointing out barriers that exist in communication, can be helpful.
Parenting Issues: This is a tough one! When people become parents, they bring with them their own family of origin and childhood experiences, and their personal view of what they would like their parenting philosophy to be. Many times, people are not even aware of the impact that their own childhood experiences have had on their parenting style, until they are in the midst of parenting, and suddenly realizing “I sound just like my parent.” When we merge this with a partner who likely had very different childhood experiences, conflict may arise. Added to that conflict are in-laws, family dynamics, and the child or children themselves, who may have their own emotional and behavioral needs increasing the stress on the relationship.
Infidelity: 15% of women and 25% of men have experienced sexual intercourse outside of a committed monogamous relationship. 35% of women, and 45% of men have experience emotional intimacy outside of their relationship. These statistics can be scary, and infidelity and affairs in the course of a relationship can have devastating impacts. However, research also suggests that the majority of relationships survive infidelity, and in fact, many relationships become stronger and more intimate with the help of couples therapy. Just look at Beyonce and Jay Z – with the help of therapy, infidelity turned into a successful world tour, and two inspired albums from each of the musicians.
Divorce: In studies evaluating why people seek therapy, only 1/4 couples who are in the midst of a divorce will indicate that they’ve looked for marital counseling to help their relationship. Additionally, those that do seek professional assistance typically wait an average of six years after identifying “serious problems” in their relationship before seeking help. Sometimes, if the decision has been made, couples therapy can still be beneficial if there are shared issues, such as children, that will outlive the marriage. Understanding how to co-exist, and co-parent, and co-function can sometimes be worked through only with professional assistance, particularly if emotions are heightened, in a time such as a divorce. Having a neutral space to clarify reasons why the relationship is ending may help set the stage for a healthy post-divorce relationship, and less baggage to take into new relationships.
Of course there may be many other reasons why marital and relationship therapy may be helpful, and this is not an all-encompassing list. Relationships, like individuals, are unique, with specific needs and differing care. The bottom line is that couples therapy can be beneficial in many ways, and we are here to help!