What Is Psychotherapy For Couples?

Adapted with Permission From Creating A Different Future, a booklet published by AMHA Massachusetts and The Consortium For Psychotherapy

Revised: May 21, 2014

The committed or marriage relationship is easy to romanticize.  Hopes and expectations for marriage are often very high.   Disappointment in our self or our partner is common. Partner relationships are very complex. Each person brings to the relationship the experiences, feelings and assumptions of the past. Thus the partner relationship can disappoint and hurt deeply -- as well as delight, heal, and serve as a basis for growth.

What Are Some Issues A Couples Might Work On In Psychotherapy?

Working with a psychotherapist who is trained and experienced in doing therapy with couples can be highly productive. It allows couples to gain perspective, learn new skill and to discuss their struggles without incident.  This may include intimacy, power, decision making, parenting or even use of spare time. It can help in relationship to realize the differences between our ongoing individual struggles and the struggles that originated in the relationship. The histories of each person as well as the history of the relationship itself are important in couples therapy. Difference, assumptions and expectations may not be intentional or personal.   Misunderstandings will often arise when two families unite through marriage. The daily complexities of children, maintaining careers, and going through life transitions can create misunderstandings, stress and unnecessary struggles for couples.

In order to resolve conflicts, the source of problems or a failing love relationship, a couple must have confidence in their psychotherapist and feel safe.   Psychotherapy must allow participants to feel safe.  This permits openness, understanding, reassurance and new developments in the couple's relationship to proceed.

One or both members of a couple might have concerns about couples therapy that could delay their decision to seek help. There may be fearful that a psychotherapist will be judgmental or will take sides. There may be fear that the therapy will separate the partners rather than bring them closer together. One partner might fear that something could be uncovered during the work that would frighten the other partner away. Shame or guilt about appearing to have "marital problems’ is also common, and seeking expert help can be experienced as a social stigma.

Seeking help is a sign of maturity rather than insecurity. Reaching out for help is a sign of courage and hope.   It reestablishes a foundation for greater trust and satisfaction and good decisions about the relationship.

Is It the Intent Of Couples Psychotherapy To Prevent Couples From Splitting Up?

The answer to this question is no.  The couple must make this decision.  Most couples will greatly improve their relationship in psychotherapy. The improvement may not be great enough, however, for the couple to choose to remain together.   If a couple with children decides to separate, a good relationship is still very important, since most couples with children will share parenting after they are separated.   Research is showing that children of parents who remain married are frequently more well adjusted than children of divorce.  Of course relationships can reach a point in which couples decide that their individual priorities outweigh their commitment to married life and the beneficial impacts on a child's development.  A mutually respectful and cooperative relationship makes co-parenting much easier and more effective.  The stress and negative impacts of divorce on children can be minimized but almost always requires professional guidance.