When you hear the phrase couples therapy, I’d be curious to hear what comes to your mind. There are the tropes of partners raging at one another for the entire session, or maybe the stereotype of an overly hopeful couples therapist who wants the relationship to work more than the clients do. In reality, the majority of couples therapy is neither of those things.
The thing about these tropes though, is that they keep many away from couples therapy who are, frankly, wonderful candidates for couples work. Esther Perel, an expert in the couples therapy field, says, “It’s natural that people argue. It’s part of intimacy. But you have to have a good system of repair. You need to be able to go back, if you’ve lost it, which happens, and say ‘I bought in my dirty tricks, I’m sorry’, or ‘You know what, I realized I didn’t hear a single word you said because I was so upset, can we talk about it again?” Couples therapy is one way to start building that system of repair.
There are some assumptions in our culture around who goes to couples therapy. Maybe you, yourself, have shared with a family member or friend that you and your partner have been in couples therapy and you see the look of terror or pity on their face when they assume it must mean your relationship is on the verge of collapse. Perhaps you assume that only those in decades-long marriages go to couples therapy. Or maybe you’ve never been in couples therapy, but you are afraid that if you and your partner go, there will be something lost in “needing help from a professional”, buying into an assumption that couples who don’t “need” or utilize therapy are somehow in a better relationship.
I, on the other hand, believe that couples therapy is a place where any couple or intimate partners can go to be brave with themselves and with each other. I’ve had the privilege of working with couples on a wide range of concerns and challenges, with some coming in with a desire for deeper connection or for a place to have an emotionally honest check-in and others working through the aftermath of a betrayal or infidelity. Some couples utilize therapy when things are really tough or when you just seem to be having the same conflict over and over, and others are at a crossroads, deciding whether or not to have children. Although being in couples therapy doesn’t necessitate that couples are in crisis, it can certainly help a couple get through one. No matter what you are facing in your relationship, couples therapy is a place to deepen your understanding of where you are and expand your exploration of where you want to go.
It is a reality that therapy itself still has some stigma attached to it, and in my experience, I’ve come to wonder if there may be even more stigma attached to couples therapy. There is an underlying assumption in our culture that people just simply enter the world with innate relationship and communication skills, and that if there is conflict in a relationship, it means you just haven’t found your soulmate yet. According to psychologist Dan Wile in this article, “When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems.” Couples therapy is an opportunity to face perpetual problems and start to “do” the conflict in a way that brings you closer together, instead of pushing you further apart.
I am here to tell you that even if there is conflict in your relationship, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. In fact, it doesn’t even necessarily mean there is anything wrong with your relationship. In couples therapy, we work to understand, unpack, and look at things from another angle. Not only can this bring great relief to the couples I work with, but it can bring a deeper connection between you and your partner and a sense of belonging to your life.
Krissy Mulpeter provides Couples Therapy in Eugene, Oregon. She writes to explore topics in whole-hearted living and healthy relationships to self and the ones we love. Krissy graduated from the University of Oregon with her M.S. degree in Couples and Family Therapy and just opened her Private Practice. When she is not doing therapy or writing, Krissy enjoys caring for her plants, cooking, going for walks, and spending time with her partner and their kitty.