I often get asked if it is too late for couples therapy.
I have worked with many families, couples and people in a variety of relationship structures and some wait years before seeking help.
The thing is, relationships take work, thinking you’ll meet ‘the one’ and it will just be easy, well, it’s kind of a fantasy. Relationships require ongoing effort and nurturing, they don’t always need to be hard work, but they do take effort.
Sometimes people wait a long time before seeking help for their challenges and struggles, and sometimes small issues can grow and become larger.
In this article, I want to debunk some common misconceptions and provide insights into managing expectations for those considering couples therapy.
Why do some people wait to go to Couples Therapy or Couples Counselling?
Being blamed: The biggest reason I see couples hold off is the fear that they will be blamed. That the therapist will be like a referee or umpire watching a match and going through and telling them everything they did wrong and how they are to blame. We are not referees or umpires. We are there for the relationships and not to take sides.
Fear of judgement: For some there may be a fear of being judged by others if they admit they are struggling in their relationship. This fear can prevent them from seeking help until the situation becomes unbearable.
Denial and avoidance: Acknowledging that there are problems within a relationship can be uncomfortable and challenging. Many couples resort to denial or avoidance as a coping mechanism, hoping the issues will resolve on their own. This doesn’t work and pain and resentment can build up. Avoidance is not a healthy strategy to use. Simply trying to sweep it under the rug doesn’t work
Stigma surrounding therapy: While this is changing in some circles which is awesome, I do hear from many people that they hesitate to seek professional help (any Ted Lasso Fan would be familiar with how difficult Ted found therapy). It’s crucial to recognise that therapy is a valuable tool for personal and relational growth, and seeking it should be viewed as a positive step.
Myths about Couples Therapy
Relationships can encounter difficulties at any stage, and couples therapy can be valuable in addressing those challenges. Unfortunately, there are several myths in addition to the stigma, fear, denial and avoidance that often deter people from seeking help earlier:
“Couples therapy is only for couples who are about to end the relationships”
This is one of the most common misconceptions about couples therapy. Seeking professional help doesn’t necessarily mean that a relationship is on the verge of collapse. Therapy can be valuable at any stage of a relationship, whether it’s to address minor issues, support with life transitions like becoming parents, strengthen communication, or improve a couple’s sexual and erotic lives.
“Couples therapy is a sign of weakness”
Seeking help is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength and commitment to the relationship. Recognising that challenges exist and actively working towards resolving them demonstrates maturity and a willingness to grow as individuals and as a couple. We learn so many other things in life, learning how to navigate relationships takes practice and patience.
Just as going to the gym is not a sign of weakness but a proactive step towards improving physical health and strength, couples therapy is a proactive approach to improving the health and strength of your relationship.
Just as we recognise the need to work out and exercise to maintain our physical wellbeing, seeking therapy (it’s not the only way, it’s just one way) acknowledges the need to work on our relationship muscles. It shows a commitment to investing time and effort into strengthening the bond with our partner, just as we invest time and effort in working out to enhance our physical fitness. Both going to the gym and attending couples therapy requires a recognition that improvement and growth are possible and that taking action is essential for progress.
“Couples therapy will fix everything quickly”
While couples therapy can be highly effective, it is not a magical solution that resolves all issues overnight. Just like going to the gym once or hiring a personal trainer, you don’t reach your fitness goals in just 1 session. It takes time and work. Most of the first few sessions form part of the assessment phase and it’s about the therapist getting to know you and the relationships so they can create a treatment plan to best suit your needs and goals. It might even take months or years to see significant changes in your relationships.
The Benefits of Couples Therapy:
Couples therapy offers a range of benefits that can help repair and strengthen relationships.
Improved communication: Couples therapy provides a safe and neutral space for partners to express their thoughts and feelings. A skilled therapist can guide you towards healthier communication patterns, facilitating understanding and empathy.
Conflict resolution: Learning effective conflict resolution strategies is vital for any relationship. Couples therapy equips partners with tools to navigate disagreements and find ways to compromise while feeling validated and heard.
Rebuilding trust: Trust is one of the core foundations of a strong relationship, and when it’s broken, it can be challenging to restore. Couples therapy can help rebuild trust by addressing underlying issues, fostering accountability, and promoting forgiveness.
Building a stronger friendship
Learning to reconnect as friends again and find shared meaning and fun in life. Resolving conflict and improving communication are only part of it. Healthy and happy relationships share a fondness for each other and have friendships. Couples therapy can give you space to discover or rediscover who you both are and how you can enjoy each other’s company more.
When entering couples therapy, it is important to approach the process with realistic expectations. One crucial aspect of managing expectations is understanding that the focus should be on personal growth and self-reflection rather than solely expecting your partner to change.
Couples therapy is not about coming into a session with a list of demands for your partner to fulfil or expecting the therapist to “fix” your relationship. Instead, it is about recognising that both individuals play a role in the dynamics of the relationship and being willing to examine your own thoughts, behaviours, and contributions to issues or stuck points in your relationship.
In couples therapy, there is a focus on fostering self-awareness and taking responsibility for your own actions and reactions within the relationship. It requires a willingness to look inward and explore your own strengths, weaknesses, and areas for personal growth. This self-reflection allows you to gain insights into how your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours influence the relationship dynamics.
Approaching couples therapy with realistic expectations is crucial for success:
Just as a garden requires regular care, attention, and nurturing, relationships need ongoing effort. It’s important to understand that therapy is not a quick fix. Progress takes time, and both partners must be committed to making positive changes.
When faced with relationship challenges, couples therapy can be a valuable resource to rebuild connections, enhance communication, and rekindle love.
Accredited Mental Health Social Worker and Family Therapist