Actually, any way you come to couples therapy is a good idea. There is a lot of research to support that. There was even an article in Consumers Report years ago that reported how couples therapy worked pretty well. But the best way usually is for you both to go together, to know what you and your partner are both doing and thinking, and to know what the couples therapist is saying to you as well as your partner.
If you can’t get your partner to go, it is just fine for you to go, if you are going to work on the relationship, work on changing yourself, work on seeing how things that bother you about your partner are related to you and what you do. It is fine to also go to relationship counseling alone if your intentions are to complain about your partner, expect your partner to change, and think that you are not the problem. But if you do that, you are most likely going to be using the relationship therapy to get out of the relationship. Just so you know.
You can always go alone the first session. It might be a good idea to have your partner go alone one time also if you do that. But are you deciding to go without letting your partner know? Unilaterally deciding? You can, of course, do that, but what are the consequences and meanings of deciding to work on the relationship without letting your partner know? It would be important to look at that.
So one issue that is coming up in this article: what is your intention for doing relationship therapy? And are you doing it alone or together and what might that mean? Worth thinking about. And couples therapy is worth it with a qualified, experienced therapist, to look at making each of you and the couple healthier.
Couples often wait much longer than is good for them to go to couples counseling. They rather quickly develop patterns with each other, many which are good, and some that are not so good. Maybe something goes wrong or badly, and one or both become upset. But things blow over. If they really do blow over and there are no resentments from either, then that sounds like the couple got through a difficult time. But if some things happen and one partner doesn’t get over it, that may point towards a problem. If one party or both keep doing an action that causes a problem, that points to a problem. When one is not being heard or feeling like his or her partner is hearing he or she, that points to a problem. And it is often true, because of caring for each other, that one puts up with these kinds of problems, and that might be ok. Ok, that is, if it doesn’t cause the couple to move apart from each other. If it is causing the couple to diverge from each other, to grow apart, to talk less, if resentments are building, it is a good idea to contact a professional couples counselor.
It can, therefore, make sense to wait a bit to see if things get better. If they are not, it is time to call. If negative feelings are growing, even slowly, it is time to call a couples therapist. If resentments are growing, you are growing apart, communication is bad or getting worse, it is time to make an appointment for couples therapy. Dr. John Gottman taught me (a well know couples therapy author and research) that most couples wait six years to go to therapy. Sooner is better than later when it comes to seeking couples counseling.
Couples therapists are people just like everyone else. They vary, have differences, have different training and experience. Below is a list of recommendations in regard to training and experience:
1. Pick an experienced couples therapist, one that has been seeing many couples for many years. Being an experienced therapist and being an experienced couples therapist are two different things. Almost all therapists have seen some couples; most have only seen a few in their careers. Often, the better couples therapist is the the one that has more extensive couples work.
2. Pick the better trained couples therapist, the one that has more training. Ph.D.s have more training than Masters level therapists in their schooling. So they, Ph.D.s, usually have the edge in some ways coming right out of school. However, many Ph.D.s have little or no couples training in school! But how much training the therapist has after getting out of school matters more than the degree. So much is learned by practicing in the real world. So you might ask about how much training the couples therapist has after getting out of school and, if you care, how much couples training while she/he was in school.
3. In my experience, which type of therapy the couples counselor practices is really not so important. You want someone that knows what he or she is doing, not someone who knows a certain type of therapy better than someone else. Research has shown that experienced therapists are more like each other than they are like novices (newbies) in their fields. That means that experienced therapists over time have gravitated towards using techniques and practices that work for experienced couples therapists, which the novices won’t have learned yet.
4. The gender of the couples therapist does not matter, unless one or both of you have a preference—then you might choose to go with your preference.
5. The older more experienced therapist might be better than the younger inexperienced one. Sometimes that will not be true. But the older and experienced therapist often is that, older and more experienced, and will know more about helping you and your partner.
Disclaimer: I am an older and more experienced couples therapist and a Ph.D. psychologist. My biases will have shown through in this writing, but everything I have written has truth in it. You may want to search for what younger and less experienced couples counselors have to say in comparison.
Really, the best overall answer would be weekly. For a number of weeks in a row, probably a minimum of six weeks. Why? If you are going to take the time and expense to go to couples therapy, it would be best to optimize your experience. Going at least once a week for at least six weeks means that you will be really digging into the work, your work, the two of you, and what is going on between the two of you. Sometimes, when couples have less problems that are less severe, that would be enough, six weeks might be all that you would need for significant change. If there are deeper problems (financial, sexual, extramarital, familial, etc.) issues, you should be into the thick of it by six weeks of therapy, and the couple’s issues should be opened up by then and being addressed. You will be in the middle of couples counseling, seeing some change, seeing your part, seeing what more you need to be doing.
What if you can’t go every week? It is not the optimum, but can work, and work well for couples. Sometimes it helps to go to couples counseling for two sessions in a row (back to back, about 100 minute sessions) if you can’t make every week. Double sessions will add intensity when the schedule is not doing so.
Some couples therapy is better than none. If you can only go irregularly, that will still work. Meeting less often means that the couple has to do more work on their own in the interim periods, to think about what they each need to change in themselves, and to hang onto that rather than to use the time to slip back in to old ineffective and/or destructive patterns, to slip into the pattern of blaming the partner.
So: think about going, about doing the work, about changing the couple and changing yourself on a weekly basis if you want to enter into couples therapy. There is a lot of research over many years that shows that it helps couples change. Which is what you are after, right?
Recently, an important person was accused of using vulgar language to talk about a couple groups of people. Whatever your political persuasion, whether you are for or against or in the middle about someone is not the point here: the results are. In couples therapy, couples often get into arguments about who said what (as did the different people who were present at the event mentioned above, different people often have different memories of what was said). When a couple in therapy start to argue about what they remember, I will often listen for a bit to see what is going on, but I also often stop them from arguing about their memories—none of us are that good at remembering, none of our memories are that perfect. And, more importantly, what comes out of the conversation is often more important than any one word that was said. How people feel about and remember what they heard (not necessarily what was said) often has the most lasting influence. With a couple in couples therapy, I will try to move them to what they took from the conflict or conversation. Then we will try to find out what was meant by the words and the responses. We will clarify and look at what was really meant.
In a relationship, if both partners are willing to work on his or her own issues, are willing to work to listen to what the other meant and is feeling and thinking, we almost always make progress. Usually, the partners got stuck, caught in the language, caught by what they thought was said or meant by the other. But without clarifying what was meant, without honest conversation about what both parties mean and are feeling and thinking, we get lost with what really happened, what someone really said or really meant. Fortunately, it is easier for a couple (though it is difficult to accomplish without practice) to work through what was said and meant than for a group of people to do.
So have hope: you and your partner can work on what you really say and mean to each other, you can move to not worrying so much about exactly what was said but to what was meant, you can move towards clarity with each other. And you can work towards a healthier relationship.
Clarity is not an issue that I have heard any experts in the area of couples counseling talk about. And yet it a concept that I work with every day and almost every session with every couple. What do you mean? What are you really saying? What’s behind what you are saying? Are you sure that is what your partner means? You are assuming that?—ask him/her if that is true! Without clarity, we seem to constantly head into nowhere in couples counseling. And when we get clarity, the therapy begins to click and we begin to move towards something. I call that something that we move towards health.
I will often say that there are three things that I always am after in couples work, sitting and talking with them, the couple. I will say, “I want you to be healthy,” pointing to one of the two, “and you to be healthy,” pointing to the other partner, “and the couple to be healthy.” And I mean it, and I hope they can tell. You are, most likely, more attractive when you are healthy. You, your partner, and the couple will probably make better decisions when you are healthy. Getting yourself healthier feels better.
But what does a healthy individual look like? And what does a healthy couple look like? I can only begin to answer these questions. In regard to clarity leading to health, I see health improving when one or both work with me to say more clearly what he/she needs, wants, likes, dislikes. I often see improvement and increased health when I watch one or the other or both get stronger about their position and their feelings without being aggressive. Saying what is really going on, being clear, moves us forward into healthier decisions for the individuals, and that results in a healthier couple, it guides us where to go. You don’t have to go to couples therapy to work on being clear. If you need help with getting clearer, getting healthier yourself, and getting the couple clearer and healthier, then by all means come to couples therapy.
As a couples therapist, I have an interest in things that have to do with couples. A new movie, Lovers, is about a mature couple that are both having affairs but their own relationship starts to sizzle again. There was a review by Micah Mertes about the movie where he quotes his “twice-divorced” professor who warned him, “in this life you can either be bored or miserable. I recommend boredom.” Mertes tells of his professor teaching him that “passion is stupid.” He goes further, “Sooner or later it fades or, worse, curdles into crisis.” As cynical as this sounds, there is a lot of truth for couples in what his professor told him. But let me turn what was said upside down for you. He talked about it negatively, but crises lead to change, and that is often a good thing for couples.
Many, many committed long-term relationships sink into mediocrity and boredom. This is often true for them sexually as well as relationally. And that can often lead to a crisis. But this is normal (by normal I mean happening to a vast number of couples) and can be seen as a good thing, if the couple can begin to see it that way, if the couple will use the crises to change for good. In the movie (Lovers) the plot twists from the couples each having an affair to them also beginning to have hot relationship with one another. Their relationship is shown as rather dead in the beginning but then change happens. And when things heat up in good ways for a couple, that is pretty powerful. The power of that heating up, that crisis (sometimes called a crucible, see the works of David Schnarch) can force change in the stagnating couple.
So a crisis when you are bored, the process of moving into some “fire” in a relationship, dealing with each other more fully, can all be good things. They are change. Often couples need the help of a couples therapist to get through the difficulties and there are times when they just work hard themselves, change themselves, give up expecting their spouse to be the one to change, and the crucible (the heating pot of change) forms a new, more alive relationship. That’s a good thing. That’s not boring and that’s using the crisis.
You, as a couple, don’t have to wait for boredom or a crisis. You can go for couples therapy if things are going wrong. You can work on the relationship, add adventure to the relationship, talk to one another, or do anything from a whole list of other possibilities to enrich the relationship (take a walk, ask about his/her day, plan a vacation, spend the evening together, set up date nights, go dancing, etc.). Why don’t you start by doing something today?
Intimacy is an issue that comes up for couples and in couples therapy. How intimate should a couple be with one another? That is not a question that the therapist has an answer to, but rather one that the couple works out, and they may need a therapist to help them work it out. Couples will always work out how intimate they are going to be with each other, just as they will always work out how much time they spend together. But are couples good at figuring out how much intimacy (or time) they need with one another? Often they are not good at working that out. It takes work, hard work, to be in an intimate relationship. There is the issue of conflict and disagreeing, and is the couple willing to face some conflict? Many couples, in working on issues that are important to them (issues that are at least somewhat intimate) have faced difficulties with each other that lead to conflict and have not been very successful with conflict. Some avoid conflict quite often, and that usually builds tension. Some launch right into conflict, but do not know how to get to resolution well, or don’t know how to compromise well, or don’t know how to acceptance divergent opinions well, so they end up having a lot of conflict that is very bothersome and festers, not getting resolved.
You, as a couple, will decide how much intimacy you are going to have. If you are both happy where you are in regard to your intimacy, then that usually works well. If one of you wants more intimacy, then you may have some work to do to figure out how you will be more intimate or how you will deal with the partner that wants more and is not getting it. You may have conflicts about intimacy. You may use conflicts to avoid intimacy also. Can you talk about your intimacy needs? Can you ask your partner about his/her intimacy needs? Can you talk about important issues, even argue about important and intimate issues with each other and reach a resolution most of the time? If not, it might be time to consider seeking out an experienced couples therapist for help.
Dr. Kraft can be found at www.CouplesOmaha.com.
There are a number of factors you might want to be aware of as you search online for a couples therapist. You can use the terms “couples therapist” or “couples counseling” or “relationship counseling” and you will often get different results, but usually they will overlap each other and come up with similar results.
Realize: the few listings at the very top of the page (it varies usually between a couple to about five) are paid ads. So they are paying Google to be up at the top. In the past, paid ads were just at the side, but now they are at the top and the side.
Realize: the next batch that sometimes show up are the listings on the map, and those are not paid for, they come up by location.
Realize: the next three listings often are all the same group of therapists, they are a directory built by Psychology Today. Because it is so big, Psychology Today not only gets the top “organic” spot (that is, the first real search item rather than a paid ad) for couples counseling, couples therapy, relationship therapy, but it gets the top three spots. And therapists are paying Psychology Today $29.95 per month to be a part of the directory. So really, the therapists are advertising there too, paying to get those spots.
Realize: there are some advertising sites that warn you about couples therapists and couples counseling. They seem like another paid site that gets your attention by trying to scare you about couples therapy.
So if you want to get beyond the ads, you have to scroll down to the middle or lower part of the page, past the listings that have “psychologytoday” in the address line, to find a true search for a couples therapist or couples counselor that is not appearing in the search because they paid the most for the advertising.
Ultimately, it will behoove you to see who the couples therapist is no matter where you find him/her. What are the credentials? How much work is devoted to couples? How does the person talk about dealing with couples? And it can be a good idea to talk on the phone with the therapist for a few minutes or ask questions through their website’s encrypted email to see what you think of her/him. It is often best to pick the well qualifed, experienced person. In the end, you’ll have to go in and see what he or she can do for you and your issues.
Many couples come to couples therapy to talk about a problem in their relationship. Sometimes what brings them is a sexual issue but often that is not their main issue. So will you have to talk about sex? You may be asked about it initially because it is a part of the larger picture of your relationship and the therapist may want to know what is going on with the two of you in a number of different areas, including sexual activity. In most cases with most therapists, you will be the ones to set up what is talked about in your therapy, that is, what is important for you to talk about is what will most often take “center stage.” So, no, in most cases where you don’t bring sexual issues as your problem then that won’t be talked about, and if you don’t want to talk about it or don’t see a problem in that area, you will not be talking about sex in couples therapy.
If you or your partner wants to talk about a sexual issue, then it will be something that comes up and will most likely need to be addressed in the work, just as any other issue you or your partner brings up. If the therapist feels that you need to talk about it and you don’t, you don’t have to talk about it—it is your time, you are paying for the sessions, and you don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to talk about. If your partner wants to talk about it and you don’t, then it becomes an issue of what the couple needs to talk about, not just what you (or your spouse) wants to talk about. So if your partner wants to talk about sex and you don’t, it will come up in the work, and both sides of the issue will have to be addressed to help the couple with it. If the therapist wants to talk about the sexual relationship and neither of you want to do so, it is possible that it would be important for the therapy to spend some time on the sexual aspects of the relationship. But if it is not making sense to either of the couple that you are spending time talking on sex in the sessions and that is not what you want, it would be good to say that to the therapist. If the therapist is spending time on things that are not important to the couple, tell the therapist that she/he is off track. As well, people don’t come back to therapy when it does not stay mostly focused on what they came for.
In summary, don’t be overly concerned about having to talk about sex (or any other topic) when you go to couples therapy if both of you don’t want to talk about it. And do make sure to talk about and work on the topics you do want to talk about.