Deciding to go to couples therapy or marriage counseling can feel like a very big step. It requires us to admit that all is not well with our relationship, which for many of us is both a difficult and frightening thing to admit. And even after you have come to accept the need for counseling, you’ll be faced with the difficult question of how best to proceed – who should I talk to, would I be more comfortable with a male or female therapist, is my spouse as equally invested in the idea of therapy, have we waited too long to seek help? And does couples therapy actually work?
When considering committing to couples therapy, it’s normal to wonder “Can couples therapy rekindle my relationship?” That is a complicated question, and the answer is rarely straightforward. The best place to start when you’re wondering if therapy may be successful is to reflect honestly on how the following considerations apply to you:
- Have you waited too long to repair the relationship? Like any therapeutic process, couples therapy works best when you seek out help early enough to prevent harmful words and actions from creating lasting damage to the relationship. If you have been in a toxic relationship over many years, it is possible that the degree of pain and bitterness that has built up may be too great to overcome.
- Are you and your partner honestly committed to saving the relationship? It is not unusual for couples to go to therapy simply to prove – to themselves, their partner, friends or family – that they did all they could to save the relationship. To be meaningful, couples therapy requires both parties to fully commit to a process that is hard, and often, painful.
- Is the problem that you are trying to address the result of deep emotional and/or physical abuse? If you are in a relationship with a partner who is abusive, it is unlikely that conventional couples therapy will correct the toxic behaviours that you are hoping to change.
- Does this relationship sustain you and provide you with the emotional and physical support to grow into the person that you want to become? Life is short. Is it worthwhile to save a relationship with a partner who is unwilling or unable to meet your current and future needs?
If the answers to those questions give you hope that couples counseling is for you, then the good news is that couples counseling can certainly help if everyone is willing to do their part. So what does ‘doing your part’ mean?
For starters, it means that both you and your partner are motivated by two things: One, that you love one another enough that you are willing to do the hard work necessary to keep the relationship together; and two, that each of you has an honest desire to make things better. In the absence of one or both of these elements, it makes hard for real change to occur. You and your partner must collectively look forward to each therapy session as an opportunity to move toward a brighter future.
Couples therapy is a team commitment involving you, your partner and the therapist. Each person has a role to play if lasting positive change is to occur. For the therapist to be able to do their job, both you and your partner must believe that he or she comes to each session with an open mind. While the therapist cannot be seen to be taking sides, they must have the courage to point out the ways in which each person has contributed to the problem.
Finally, it is important for you and your partner to see counseling as a genuine opportunity to explore your feelings in an environment of safety and real honesty. Truth telling can hurt, but lasting change in a relationship can only take place when it is built upon a foundation of honesty. Remember though that honesty is a two-way street. If the relationship is to improve, both sides have to own their past actions – both the good and the bad – and the solution. Couples therapy will not work if all you can do in session is point fingers at one another while not accepting how your actions (or inactions) have contributed to the problem.