couple therapy

The Journey of Couple’s Therapy- Common Questions

I recently came across the blog on Huffington Post “Timing Is Everything When It Comes To Marriage Counseling” by Terry Gaspard, LICSW and began thinking about the common questions and myths I hear in couple’s counseling. These are questions that tend to stop people from entering therapy.

All couples enter therapy for different reasons and with different goals. However, these are the common questions I hear during the process of therapy, along with the responses I give.

“What are our chances of working out?”

Couples enter therapy and want to know what’s the likelihood of their relationship being successful. All the therapists at Therapy With Heart use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and this therapy is shown to have a 90% success rate, with 70 – 73% of couples reporting recovering from distress and continued improvement after therapy (ICEEFT).

With that data being shared, EFT alone doesn’t predict success in therapy. Success predictors are: commitment level, motivation for change, attachment injuries/traumas, external stressors.

  • Commitment Level – couples that are committed to the relationship are more likely to be successful in reaching therapy goals, feeling more connected, and creating more stability. The biggest predictor for success in healing relationships is the level of commitment by both partners. Even a small, tiny amount of hope and investment can affect the success of the therapy process.
  • Motivation for change – couples that are motivated for change and are accountable for their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that impact the relationship are more likely to be successful. These couples tend to be more likely to do work in between sessions, read “Hold Me Tight” (EFT), and to discuss vulnerable emotions with their partner.
  • Attachment injuries/traumas – couples with fewer injuries/traumas are likely to heal the relationship quicker but this doesn’t mean that couples with injuries and trauma cannot heal. All couples have some injuries and possibly have traumas. We look at how the partners repair after an injury or trauma. The couples that take time and spend energy to reconnect, make amends, and show validation to their partner are more likely to be successful.
  • External stressors – all relationships have external stressors; some we can control and some we can’t. External stressors tend to impact the speed of therapy and healing but external stressors due to prohibit successful therapy.

“How many sessions do we need?”

The number of sessions depends on the presenting concerns and relationship history. Every couple will require, or prefer, different lengths and frequency of treatment. What I encourage couples to do is to not stop therapy at the first sign that the relationship is improving.

For most couples, as we begin to have more vulnerable conversations around past hurts, the partners feel more disconnected initially. This starts to heal and the couple is reconnected and stronger as we have successful conversations in therapy. Couples that stop therapy at this point are likely to fall back into old patterns.

Couples that can stay in therapy and have more successful conversations, both in session and out of session, are more likely to maintain an effective communication pattern and connection. At this point in therapy, it may be appropriate to come in less frequently but it’s always helpful to have a third party that can help the couple understand their dynamic and help them smooth out any misunderstandings/miscommunication.

It’s also important not to stop therapy when it gets hard or if you hit some bumps. This is where the real work begins and you have an opportunity to do it differently and solidify changes.

“What if as a couple we want to end to the relationship?”

EFT focuses on having vulnerable and hard conversations. If one or both partners want to end the relationship, this will be explored and discussed openly in therapy. As couples’ therapists, we want all couples to be successful and we know that “success” is different for each couple and partner. Some couples define success as ending the relationship.

“Will you tell us what to do?”

Therapists don’t tell clients what they should or shouldn’t do in regards of staying together or ending the relationship. Couples have asked for this in past sessions but therapists can’t direct clients in this way. Therapists can explore with the client, or couple, options they’re considering and help them process what’s best for them.

Therapists may offer suggestions and directions for more effective communication strategies, coping skills, or positive bonding time. This is always a collaborative approach between the therapist and the couple. We believe that you’re the expert on you and your relationship and we’re the experts on building emotional connection and healing. Between the three of us, we’ll navigate the therapy process.

“Will I be blamed in session?”

The therapist won’t blame any client. The role of the therapist is to focus on the dynamics between partners, not faults of either partner. The therapist will always be on the side of the relationship.

This may look like aligning with each partner throughout the therapeutic process in order to help the couple heal the relationship. If at any point you feel blamed, please share that with the therapist.

“How will we know when we are done?”

The couple will know when they’re done with therapy when they have successfully changed the couple’s cycle of connection. Most couples feel they’re done with therapy when they have healed past hurts, and have maintained effective communication through stressful times.

Couples report having positive experiences of managing conflict, engaging in repair after the conflict, and report maintaining a feeling of connection with their partner.

“Why do we have to talk about the past and feelings, can’t we just move on?”

There’s usually one partner that doesn’t want to relive the past and wants to “just move on.” This is understandable, as most couples have attempted these conversations and they haven’t gone well.

In the EFT model, discussing past relationship injuries and traumas is the cornerstone of healing the relationship. The therapist creates a safe space to discuss the past hurts. This allows the couple to have a corrective experience in which the partners can demonstrate validation, empathy, understanding and apologies.

This model also focuses on exploring primary emotions, such as hurt, shame, sadness, guilt and fear. When discussing primary emotions, the couple is more likely to show empathy and connect with one another.

Please feel free to reach out to Therapy With Heart if you have any other questions or concerns. Our therapists want to address any concerns you have that’s keeping you from getting support for you and your partner.

If you’re interested in couples therapy but are worried about any of the questions discussed earlier in this blog, please call and speak to one of our therapists at 480.888.530. Another great read on myths of couples therapy can be found here.

This post was written by Minon Maier – LMFT