Yvette E. McDonald, LCSW-QS
8 Myths About Couples Therapy
I hear it more times then I can count "Couples therapy doesn't work." "Couples therapy hasn't worked for my friends." or "We can never heal the pain from the past."
There's a hopelessness about these statements. But, at the root of it are they birthed from fear of the unknown, fear of the possibility, myths, reality of their friends experiences or that one is so entrenched in their maladaptive behaviors that they say couples therapy won't work because they don't want to give up their secret affair, their unrealistic views of what the future will look like or more importantly their inability to forgive themselves or the other person for their breach of trust?
It's hard to narrow down one's motives nor am I attempting to. For all we know one may not want to entertain couples therapy for the mere stigma that surrounds it. However, I do want to bring light to some of the myths behind couples therapy in order that one can find some clarity and hope knowing that it works and is a game changer for relationships in a healthy way.
Based on both clients accounts and some research, I found these to be the most widely held myths about couples therapy.
Myth #1 If my partner and I see a couples therapist, it means divorce is inevitable.
Reality: Absolutely not. It means that the two of you are ready and willing to work on improving your relationship. Or, perhaps just making sure that you are on the right path for a successful lasting relationship. You will likely understand yourselves and each other better. In addition, my clients have experienced a deeper friendship, greater self-awareness, romance, strengthened trust and commitment and a relationship that thrives not just survives the day to day grind . If you have harsh start-ups, the four horsemen, flooding, failed repair attempts, bad memories and didn't see a therapist, that in fact could lead to divorce.
Myth #2: The Therapist will take sides.
Reality: This is not true. A good couples therapist will remain neutral and help the two of you resolve your differences. There are times where their will be reality checks and a need to create realistic expectations. There will also be times where one partner may need a bit more focus within session than the other. However, at the end of each session, each of you should feel your point of view was heard and understood and that the work completed was for the improvement of the relationship.
Myth #3: Couples therapy will lead to divorce.
Reality: This is not true. Therapy in and of it self cannot lead to divorce. Successful therapy will have you seeing things you don't always want to see about yourself and your relationship with regards to unhealthy patterns, toxic conflict resolution, poor boundaries and unrealistic expectations. You will as a couple uncover past and present emotional injuries and breaches in trust with the opportunity to find healing and hope. It does require emotional stamina, a desire to learn and apply and a growth mindset. It requires commitment to the process and a willingness to be in the inner places that have one feeling vulnerable (reminder vulnerability is true strength).
Myth #4: Couples therapy will only make things worst.
Reality: False. Therapy in any form will have you going through the skeletons in your closet, dealing with some demons and surrendering to change and working through some things. But, that doesn't equate to making your life or marriage worst. Counseling works. There's a process involved in it but many have found counseling to be a benefit to their lives and highly recommend it (at least that's why my clients report).
Myth #5: Our relationship is too far gone.
Reality: It's not over till it's over. When everything points to divorce and the relationship seems beyond repair it doesn't mean its the end. Though your heart and mind may be feeling and thinking that. If you make the changes learned in therapy you can have a good outcome, the relationship can be different, love can return and you can connect in ways you haven't experienced in years. And for this reason I intentionally start couples therapy with "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work", a psycho-educational piece which is a research-based tool for improving your relationship by building skills for strengthening your marriage. "Even a marriage that is about to hit bottom can be revived with the right intervention." John Gottman. For those having experienced a betrayal in the form of an affair, know that there is hope for your relationship as well. In these circumstances we will dive deep into a proven, research-based approach for treating couples impacted by infidelity. You will be empowered to not only rebuild your relationship but also create immunity from future betrayals using an Atone, Attune and Attach Model for treating affairs.
Myth #6 Couples therapy takes forever and costs too much.
Reality: Divorce is more expensive with more negative consequences then one can imagine. The fact of the matter is, therapist do work with clients financial situations to the best of their ability. In terms of it taking forever, there are a variety of ways a therapist can work with your particular situation and depending if your being proactive as opposed to needing intervention, your level of crisis and proactivity, couples therapy can take on different forms (time, duration, energy). It will however take some energy, time and resources to make your relationship stronger and happier. Keeping in mind...
Anything worth having in life is worth working for. - Andrew Carnegie
Myth #7 Couples therapy will be all about us digging up the past crap.
Reality: Incorrect. It depends which couples therapist you go to. Some will have you sitting in the mess of the past and others will intentionally walk you through healing exercises in order to use the past as a cystalist for postive change. One of my favorite interventions is the "Aftermath of a Fight or an Regrettable Inident". Here we do a deep dive following 5 scripted steps which allow us to evaluate a situation designed specifically to increase understanding of each other.
Myth #8 Change is impossible.
Reality: Dr. Gottman says that couples do not need to overhaul their entire relationship or change their personalities. He speaks to small changes over time can make huge differences. Dr. Gottman uses the example of aiming a rocket toward the moon, being off a couple degrees can result in missing the moon by a wide margin. Just as a small correction in the path of the rocket can result in hitting the target, so small changes in the direction of the relationship can bring large rewards. "Don't miss out on something that could be amazing just because it could also be difficult." ~unknown
Why most marriage therapy fails
The Gottman's have found in their years of research that most marriage therapy fails because of the goal of therapy. The advice that is given is that you must learn to communicate better and resolve conflict and all will be happy. The most commonly recommended method, "active listening". Active listening is an amazing skill don't get me wrong however it doesn't always work as a standalone strategy and is nearly impossible to do when feeling under attack and flooded. Unfortunately, the easy button of listening and conflict regulation alone isn't what makes couples therapy succeed.
Couples counseling can be a rewarding experience. Depending on what state of your relationship you start counseling it can be a time of:
Making sure your doing it right
Healing and Hope
Repair and rebuilding
In all scenarios though it's a journey to a stronger relationship with a strong foundation in order that the relationship can go the distance and improve over time. It's time that we change our attitudes and approach about couples therapy and stop the stigma.
It will take courage and vulnerability to open up, listen and forgive.
It does take humility to consider another's perspective and learn new skills.
It does take determination and perseverance to experience a loving realtionship.
Lets choose today to break down the stigma of couples therapy and make it a little more accepted in our culture!
Yvette E. McDonald is the owner and counselor at Traveling Light Counseling, a practice for couples helping them create an intimate partnership for the journey of life in the Port Saint Lucie and Martin County area.
I'm passionate about couples creating a strong friendship and foundation that can go the distance. If you're in the Saint Lucie or Martin County Area and couple life isn't quite what you expected it to be or you want to make sure you are doing it right, please give me a call at 772-361-8448 for a free, 15-minute phone consultation.