Couples therapy is a type of psychotherapy focused on helping a couple work through challenges, understand their relationship better, and develop healthier ways of relating to one another. The therapist uses specific therapeutic techniques and interventions to support the couple’s goals.
Many couples come to couples therapy because they’re dealing with a specific challenge, such as communication issues, difficulties around sex, affairs, or considering a breakup. At core, it’s about helping couples “get unstuck from painful dynamics that keep getting repeated.”
Couples therapy can sound dramatic, but in reality, going to couples therapy or couples counseling can be a very healthy step for a relationship. It’s usually a sign that a couple is interested in working on their relationship in a committed, intentional way. Here’s a guide to what happens at couples therapy, how to know if you should go to couples therapy, and other frequently asked questions.
What happens at couples therapy.
Typically, couples therapy involves talking through relationship challenges as a couple with a neutral party (your therapist) who is trained to help you get to the bottom of the issue, Carroll says. The therapist will ask specific questions to help partners communicate in a healthier, more honest way, understand each other’s perspectives and feelings better, and develop new ways of approaching conflicts. They may also do guided couples activities.
A good couples therapist teaches couples how to ask for what they want without causing the other person to shut down. A therapist knows how to help couples get to the real trouble [at the heart of the issue] and can teach skills or appropriate referrals to help them through it.
During couples therapy sessions, couples learn new relational skills, such as how to express desires as wants instead of criticisms. For example, you might learn to say, “I want you to be more affectionate and hold my hand” rather than “You never hold my hand.”
Therapists also watch for issues like clinical depression, which might look like disappointment in your partner at the outset but is a clinical condition that needs to be treated.
Couples therapy is a type of psychotherapy focused on helping a couple work through challenges, understand their relationship better, and develop healthier ways of relating to one another.