Effective couples therapy depends on a number of factors. Both partners must be willing to make a change. If one has already decided to give up and cannot reengage, then success is probably not possible.
The key is to get to a therapist before your relationship has eroded too far. If one or both of you are just going through the motions to prove you’ve left no stone unturned before you split, you can’t expect good results.
But if there is any interest at all in staying together, couples therapy can help even very distressed couples. It’s important to see a therapist who is trained in marriage and family counseling, which requires different skills from individual counseling. Chances are good that a couples therapist committed to helping people make positive changes can help you too.
A therapist can:
Make you see your relationship differently.
You are used to viewing your relationship through the lens of your experience. There’s nothing wrong with that unless it impinges on the success of your relationship. A therapist can help you see it more objectively. He can observe how you interact with your partner and begin to understand what happens to you and your partner in a particular context. For example, if you are both under financial stress, your relationship is bound to be stressed as well. You will begin to see yourself and your partner and the way you interact in more adaptive ways.
Identify destructive behavior.
There is some dysfunctional behavior-drug abuse, physical or emotional abuse, violence-that can sink any relationship. A therapist can make an assessment if one partner is engaging in such destructive behavior and if the other partner enables it. Such cases may require specialized treatment. But if the behavior is not too severe, an effective therapist can help partners change the way they behave with each other. They can help improve your interaction and suggest strategies to help you stop conflicts from escalating out of hand.
Help you express your true feelings.
Sometimes behavior you have learned in your childhood carries over into your adult relationships. If you were a child who was supposed to be seen but not heard, a child who was berated for being too emotional, a child who was taught to hide her true feelings, you may fear opening up to you
r partner. But that puts you at risk of being emotionally distant and may drive a wedge between you and your partner. A good therapist can help you feel more comfortable in expressing your true needs so you and your partner can be emotionally close.
Coach you to communicate effectively.
Once you express your true feelings, you need your partner to be supportive and understanding. There is no room for sarcasm or apathy or criticism or ridicule. That will only cause more conflict. A good therapist will guide you and your partner to listen actively and empathically and to response appropriately. It is no coincidence that communication is constantly being touted as critical to a good marriage. But sometimes it takes a therapist to help you see how you and your partner can communicate better.
Find your strengths.
Couples therapy isn’t always all about problems. It’s good to understand your strengths and build on them. The idea is to help you find the positive things that give you joy and make you a happy couple. A therapist will guide you in creating your own positive narrative that fits your relationship. After all, you did get together in the first place and found pleasure in each other’s company. Even if your relationship is in trouble now, a therapist can help you find your way to a stronger, better relationship.