“Marital therapy is only for couples with serious issues,” is a common belief … but when it comes to relationship wellness, everyone’s partnership can benefit from a tune-up.
While we might imagine that hot topics like infidelity or financial distress are the most common reasons for seeing a therapist, research shows that communication differences and feeling emotionally distant are the two most common reasons why couples begin therapy.
How can a stranger possibly help us?
Many people may feel skeptical that a ‘stranger’ can help them to remedy their conflicts with greater ease because we’ve all seen poor portrayals of couple’s therapy on reality T.V. Here, therapists often blame one party more than the other and offer direct relationship advice.
But couple’s therapy isn’t a space for concrete solutions or relationship forecasting, it’s a place where you and your partner can learn how to fine-tune your relationship. Couples therapists are like relationship guides who can help you navigate through the difficult challenges that you face, such as job stress, illness, extended family dynamics, and parenting woes.
To help you gain a wider understanding of what marriage counseling entails, we’ve answered four of the most common questions that people have about this type of psychotherapy.
What do you need to know about beginning marital counseling?
Before starting marital counseling, it’s important to know that your therapist is not a relationship seamstress or an advice giver. Because many of us are familiar with relationship advice columns like the classic “Dear Abby,” we might believe that a therapist will tell us how to fix our problems.
In reality, couple’s therapists will help you to identify and explore the dynamics you want to address in your relationship so that you can communicate with your partner more effectively.
How important is an open mind for the success of counseling?
If you begin marriage counseling with the belief that it’s “never going to work,” or that the therapist will “side” with your partner, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment before you’ve even begun. These beliefs may reflect some deeper feelings that your therapist can help you understand.
For example, if you believe marriage counseling is ‘doomed,’ does that mean you’re feeling pessimistic about your partnership? If you feel your partner will ‘win’ the therapist over, could it be that power dynamics and competition are already adversely impacting your relationship?
Entering therapy with an open mind will help you see new possibilities that often help you to feel hopeful about the couple’s work you’re embarking upon.
How many sessions are necessary?
Research on Statistic Brain shows that most couples attend 20 sessions of therapy, but each relationship is different. It’s best to enter with an open mind so that you and your partner can focus on the process instead of worrying about the ‘outcome’ (i.e. how many sessions before we’re better).
We’re used to this mindset because medicine for our physical pain is prescribed in doses, conveying that there’s a finite amount of time before you feel better. But our emotional lives are more complicated. Unlike a ‘pill’ you might take to cure your headache, a couple’s therapist teaches you how to be an active part of your own healing, and this takes time.
Why should you learn from others’ experiences?
Often, couples have difficulty finding ‘perspective’ about the challenges they face. When relationship patterns emerge, we’re often quick to categorize problems, such as communication or parenting worries as character flaws instead of differences. Couple’s therapists illuminate these patterns so that you can address your problems in novel ways.
Sometimes when we’re looking too closely at a situation, we miss new and important details that can change the way we view the picture. A marital therapist helps you and your partner see the ‘full picture’ of your relationship so that you can zoom in on the aspects that you want to refine.