Relationships

Couples Therapy: What It Is, How It Works, and What You Need to Know

The surge in global separations prompts consideration of couples therapy. Discover its benefits, from enhancing communication to fostering intimacy, and learn how to find a suitable therapist for your relationship. Improve your bond today!

grow therapy therapist candy taylor ceballos By Candy Taylor-Ceballos, LCSW

Updated on Apr 30, 2024

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The number of couples separating is rising globally, leaving many to wonder what is driving this trend. Worrying statistics from the American Psychological Association indicate that up to 50% of marriages in the U.S. alone end in divorce.

In light of this, couples therapy helps partners to explore their relationship in a safe, non-judgmental environment while also allowing them to strengthen their conflict-resolution skills.

This article discusses couples therapy, why it’s worth considering, and how to find a fitting  therapist.

What Is Couples Therapy?

Couples therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps couples to improve their relationships by addressing various relationship issues. Specifically, couples therapy aims to help partners identify, discuss, and resolve issues that are causing strain on their relationship, such as conflicts surrounding sex, feelings of disconnection, and external stressors.

Couples therapy takes care of all, regardless of race, age, marital status, sexual orientation, or faith.

Dr. John Gottman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Washington, explains, “Couples therapy is not taking sides or blaming one partner over the other. It’s about helping both partners to understand each other’s perspective, needs, and concerns, and to find common ground workable solutions.”  

The Purpose of Couples Therapy

According to the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy, the goals of couples therapy include:

Strengthening Respect, Intimacy, and Affection 

Therapy focuses on helping couples better understand each other’s emotional needs, with the aim of establishing a solid emotional connection with mutual appreciation. Couples therapy adopts the notion that respect, intimacy, and affection among partners are the remedies for contempt.

Eradicating Barriers That Cause a Feeling of Stagnancy 

Through therapy, couples can identify and eliminate barriers that may prevent their relationship from progressing. These barriers may include poor communication patterns, unmet emotional needs, and unspoken resentments. 

Disarming Conflicting Verbal Communication

Therapy helps couples to learn how to communicate effectively through conflict. Couples develop skills like active listening and being responsible for their feelings. 

Additionally, couples can learn to avoid communication patterns that may adversely affect their relationship. At the same time, the process also helps partners to talk honestly about their hopes, aspirations, values, and expectations in their relationship.

Building Empathy and Understanding in a Relationship 

Couples therapy aims at helping couples understand and appreciate each other’s feelings and needs. Partners are equipped with tools to help build empathy and understanding toward one another, thus feeling more connected. With the goal of feeling connected at the forefront, knowing that your partner is empathetic and there for you in times of need also helps to instill trust and confidence, contributing toward longevity. 

Developing a Positive Perspective and Managing Conflict 

Through the therapeutic process, partners develop a positive outlook on problem-solving and the success of their attempts to mend the rifts in their relationship. The primary aim is to equip couples with tools to help manage conflicts as they arise, rather than only focusing on resolving past conflicts. 

The emphasis is on the ability to handle perpetual issues harmoniously, with the understanding that conflicts are natural in a relationship. With a positive approach to problem-solving and a collective determination to sail through, couples can build a healthier, stronger relationship.

Couples Therapy vs. Couples Counseling

Although couples therapy and couples counseling are used interchangeably, they differ slightly. 

Couples therapy deals with problems that have a history, giving rise to unhealthy relationship patterns. The therapeutic process involves digging deeper into the underlying emotional causes that lead to conflicts between couples. The problems that couples therapy addresses are characteristically perpetual and long-term.

“Couples therapy mostly involves changing the cycles of interactions and habits. Couples practice and implement the skills they learn in each session. The process is a bit formal and may take up to six months,” explains Dr. Cristina Raphael, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Therapist at Grow Therapy.

On the other hand, couples counseling is more short-term and somewhat less formal than couples therapy. Primarily, couples counseling is aimed at helping partners prepare for future challenges in the relationship or solve current problems.

In a nutshell, couples therapy is based on a holistic, more comprehensive approach to relationship issues, while couples counseling generally focuses on a specific, short-term problem in a relationship.

Why Go to Couples Therapy?

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy reports that 98% of couples who undergo therapy receive good or excellent therapy services. Additionally, over three-quarters of those receiving couples or marital therapy report an improvement in their relationship.

The statistics underscore the important role that therapy plays in fixing rifts in relationships.

However, the outcomes of therapy depend on the couple seeking help. The results will likely be beneficial to couples who are willing to put more effort into their relationship. The main reasons why you should go to couples therapy include the following: 

Strengthen the Understanding of the Relationship Dynamic 

Through couples therapy, partners can start to understand the dynamics of their relationship. Couples will learn whether the relationship is dynamically balanced, while also determining if the partnership has negative communication patterns that may need to be addressed.

Understanding these dynamics will help prevent conflicts and build a stronger bond between partners.

Help to Improve Communication Skills

Another benefit of attending couples therapy is the enhanced communication between partners.  

A major reason why you may face difficulties in your relationship is ineffective communication with your partner. Through therapy, you’ll learn how to express yourself clearly and actively listen to your partner. Additionally, couples therapists will teach you and your partner to communicate your needs and concerns constructively.

With these skills, you’ll learn to better manage arguments and misunderstandings, creating a stronger emotional connection by doing so.

Get a Purposeful Listening Board

A good couples therapist is trustworthy. They’ll listen to issues affecting your relationship and respond honestly and neutrally. 

Furthermore, couples therapists are a go-to if you have questions about decisions that would affect your relationship or want to steer the relationship in a new direction. They will help you navigate the potential long-term impacts of your decisions and may propose alternative choices.

Lead to Increased Intimacy

Couples therapy also helps you to improve intimacy and connection with your partner. In therapy, you’ll learn how to understand and appreciate each other’s desires and work together to meet them. 

You will also build emotional and physical intimacy, strengthening the bonds with your loved one. In addition, couples therapists will teach you how to address issues like declined sexual urges or sexual dysfunction, helping to maintain a satisfying intimate life in your marriage.

Assistance in Addressing Emotional Issues

Couples therapists can help you address emotional issues affecting your relationship. For instance, if one partner fights anxiety and depression, it will affect the other and the relationship. By finding a therapist, particularly one that specializes in mental health, couples can learn suitable mental health-related coping strategies for their specific circumstance.

Additionally, through therapy, you’ll be able to identify existing emotional issues causing your relationship problems, like fear of vulnerability, and put recovery plans in place.

Develop Stronger and More Effective Coping Skills

In every relationship, there are challenging moments that need strong coping skills to navigate. Couples therapy teaches you how to work together and deal with challenging life events, such as job loss. Additionally, with robust coping mechanisms, you can work toward overcoming sadness, stress, anger, and other matters affecting your marriage or partnership.

Effective coping skills can also help set a path for your relationship’s future. By working issues out, you’ll identify issues that may cause problems in the future and learn how to address them proactively. 

Further, you will learn to communicate more effectively and build a healthy relationship pattern. As a result, you’ll set a strong foundation for a successful future with your partner.

Bring Back Trust

One of the reasons why you may consider counseling is because trust is lost in your relationship. 

Marital counseling is an ideal way of expressing your mistrust, how it was lost, and what can be done to restore it. Also, a counseling program can help build space for healing and help form a strong foundation for rebuilding your relationship.

What to Do Before Couples Therapy

Before attending therapy, couples need to prepare adequately. While there is much to expect from a therapy session, remember it won’t be easy. Here is how to prepare adequately for therapy with your partner:

Be Open and Honest 

To have impactful therapy, you must be open and honest about your feelings and experiences. You should also be willing to share your thoughts and feelings about the therapy with your partner and therapist.

Set Goals and Discuss Them Together 

It is essential to set clear goals and discuss them with your partner. Understand what you need to achieve by attending therapy. Do you want to improve communication? Want to better understand how to improve the relationship dynamic? By setting realistic goals, your therapist can develop a precise treatment plan for your benefit.

Be Prepared to Share Your History 

Your therapy sessions will likely include sharing personal memories, thoughts, feelings, and stories. Sharing your family history is vital for couples counselors; it allows them to understand your attachment styles and emotional bonds. As a result, your therapist can give tailored insights based on your relationship with others.

Create Time for Reflection After Your First Meeting

Make sure you have enough time after your first appointment for reflection and self-care. For example, if your therapy is scheduled for the evening, consider putting aside other night activities so you can rest and recharge.

Finish Your Paperwork Ahead of Time 

Like other healthcare specialists, couples therapists will need you to fill out specific forms before starting your session. These forms may include HIPAA guidelines and informed consent forms. Also, take this opportunity to ask any questions you might have about the therapy.

Consider Comfort and Fit 

While all couples counselors have specialized experience helping couples, they mostly have different styles and approaches. Therefore, it’s essential to consider comfort and fit when choosing the right therapist for you. Be sure to settle with a therapist with techniques and styles you are comfortable with, and best suit your relational needs. 

How to Find a Couples Therapist

Finding a couples therapist can be challenging. However, with the right tips and information, you can find one who can help you. Here’s how you can set out to find a therapist for your relationship:

1. Look For a Therapist Specifically Trained for Couples Therapy

Not all therapists may be licensed to offer couples therapy. Therefore, be sure to check whether the counselor you are seeing has the specific training and the necessary licensing.

You want to feel comfortable with your therapist while sharing your relationship issues. Therefore, be sure to choose a couples therapist devoted to working with couples. 

“The therapeutic process can feel a bit cumbersome and it requires a lot of nerve to take the first step. A skilled couples therapist must utilize unconditional positive regard to make and encourage the clients to feel safe and build a trusting therapeutic relationship,” advises Katrina Hester, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with Grow Therapy.  

You also need to consider asking how often the counselor meets with couples so you can understand their commitment better. Choose a therapist whose daily practice involves working with couples as a pair.

2. Assess Prospect Therapists on the Phone or During the First Appointment

Ensure that you ask questions relevant to your needs and assess if they fit you well. For instance, you may ask about their academic qualifications and views on divorce and successful marriages. Further, you may ask about their therapy styles and approaches. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t try to stick it out. Instead, seek out another therapist who better fits your needs. 

3. Ensure They Align With Your Budget and Schedule

Couples therapy can be costly. So you and your partner should discuss the budget and schedule you are comfortable with. Because costs may vary among therapists, research all therapists near you. Additionally, check if your insurance cover will cater for the session. You can use the filters on the Grow Therapy website to find a therapist who accepts your plan to ensure the cost is as low as possible. 

Licensing

It’s essential to look for a licensed therapist specializing in couples and marital therapy. A licensed marriage therapist should have a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy or a related discipline.  

Book a Session

If you and your partner are experiencing relationship issues, a licensed couples therapist can help. At Grow Therapy, we can help you find a therapist in your state who accepts your insurance and specializes in your needs — you can meet your therapist online or in person.

Takeaway

Couples therapy can be a valuable tool for resolving conflicts and improving relationships. Also, visiting a therapist can help positively change your relationship and well-being. However, before seeing a couples therapist, prepare your partner so you can have a mutual agreement. It’s also worth noting that sometimes couples come to therapy with expectations of “fixing” a partner. Often times counseling assists couples in coming to terms with working together toward issues within the marriage/relationship; however, other times coming to terms about ending the relationship/marriage is also another healthy outcome of therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
grow therapy therapist candy taylor ceballos Candy Taylor-Ceballos, LCSW

Candy Taylor-Ceballos is a bilingual and bicultural therapist with over 10 years of experience specializing in work with children, adolescents, families, and newly/expecting mothers.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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