What Couples Therapy Isn’t: Debunking 5 Common Myths
I’m in couples counseling myself, because my relationship is so important to me and because both my partner and I value continuing to grow together. We’re here because our relationship is strong. We’ve tried five different therapists for different needs at different times, and with varying degrees of success. There were times when the need for support was more acute, as it was when I had postpartum depression. This was a different type of support than that we’ve received in generally seeking to up-level our relationship.
When I first started couples counseling, I remember secretly feeling anxious that the therapist wouldn’t understand me. I hoped I could present a story of the relationship that made me look good. I had all the usual jitters. These jitters—feelings of uncertainty—can make it easy to gravitate toward myths that encapsulate our fears and tempt us to avoid beginning important work on our relationships. You may find yourself believing one or more of these myths. And that doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t ready to do the work of couples counseling, but getting curious about your beliefs can certainly help you determine what you’re really seeking and feeling.
It’s important to note that there are a few things that absolutely shouldn’t be dismissed as myths. Couples counseling has to feel like the right fit for both partners; it really has to feel like the therapist can “get your world.” Both partners have to feel safe. Some couples really have had bad experiences with therapists before—to the extent that one of their myths was proven true—and require deep caution in selecting a practitioner. But it is also true that couples counseling is a space of vulnerability, hard work, and bravery. This means that knowing whether you are ready to explore couples counseling means giving yourself the space to notice fear and be curious about it.
Let’s dive in.
MYTH #1: GOOD RELATIONSHIPS DON’T NEED HELP.
This myth relies on antiquated thinking about relationshipS. It makes the assumption of a “happily ever after” which is, itself, a myth. Relationships, and the people engaged in them, are not 2-dimensional in the way that a happily-ever-after myth implies. More modern thinking situates a couple as partners that help one another grow. The partners and the relationship itself are 3-dimensional, living, breathing things. Relationships are some of the hardest things we do in life. Just because we meet a great match, that doesn’t mean we automatically ride off into the sunset for a problem-free future.
All relationships could be “good” or “bad” depending on the work, awareness, kindness, and attention that are put into them. And all relationships could benefit from the care and attention that can be had in couples work. It’s important to reflect that thinking a relationship lacks issues could mean not being alive to what’s happening within it.
MYTH #2: COUPLES THERAPY WILL CREATE PROBLEMS THAT DON’T CURRENTLY EXIST.
The problems are already there. Even if the problems aren’t completely obvious or visible, they have symptoms that you may already see more clearly. And the problems are most likely “squirting out sideways,” so to speak, and creating more problems. Couples work, by shining soft, warm light on the issues, is the best way to resolve them. Most issues can be fully and meaningfully resolved.
The foundation of this myth is fear. It absolutely does take bravery and courage to face our issues, and that is part of the work.
MYTH #3: PRIVATE MATTERS SHOULD STAY PRIVATE. NO ONE ELSE NEEDS TO HEAR ABOUT THIS.
This myth chooses a fixed mindset over a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset is important to reaching new understandings in relational work. Wanting issues to be resolved means that removing facades—dropping the act that things are okay when they’re really not—can be a catalyst for growth. So, letting someone in on the intimacies isn’t a threat; it’s an addition of resources.
Assuming that couples therapy is invasive can also be seen as a “protect and defend” mentality, or a lack of trust that things will be okay if someone else knows what is happening. That kind of reasoning is something to become curious about rather than to let keep you from working on your relationship.
A foundation of this myth is a worry about being exposed. Entering therapy is an act of faith and trust; it definitely is a space of vulnerability; and it requires courage and inner strength.
MYTH #4: THE THERAPIST WILL TAKE SIDES.
It’s the job of the therapist to hold the relationship—not one partner or the other—as the client.
Good couples counseling doesn’t include the taking of sides, though it may include the calling out of behavior, which can sometimes feel as though the therapist isn’t on our side. There should be clear benefit in this kind of feedback, however. If you feel that you are in a dynamic where the therapist is clearly taking your partner’s side, that is probably not the right fit.
If there are sensitivities (such as experience step-parenting, a similar background to you, etc) that you feel would allow your therapist to best get your world and most thoroughly hold your relationship as the client, then it’s reasonable to interview for that as you look for a therapist. The therapist should never be taking sides.
MYTH #5: GOING TO COUPLES THERAPY IS A WASTE OF MONEY, BECAUSE MY RELATIONSHIP IS DOOMED ANYWAY.
We vote with our dollar for what we think is important. This is true in many aspects of life, and couples therapy is no different. It is expensive. And so is losing our loved ones over issues that could have been resolved with some space-holding, intentionality, and truth-telling. (Breakups are costly financially as well as emotionally!)
If you believe that your relationship is doomed, it might be worth exploring if that belief is actually true. There is value in seeking new understandings of your relationship expeditiously with a professional, no matter what you learn. And it is important to remember that a “doomed” relationship is not necessarily a failed relationship—we can learn a lot from relationships that ended. We can learn from what didn’t work, and we can learn about the ways that we show up in relationship. Exploring those lessons with a professional can also be extremely valuable.
In my own experience, the more money I have paid, the better the support I have gotten. When my partner and I have tried to muddle through on our own to save a dollar, it has cost me in other ways.
I’m a couples counselor with 10+ years of experience. My clients describe me as dynamic, compassionate, and effective. I have a few slots available for couples looking to really do the work. If you think that I could help, or that my flavor of support is appealing to you, give me a call at (720) 244-9665 or email me at [email protected].