Why should you see a relationship therapist or coach?

Are you a couple on the brink of a breakup?

Perhaps you have been experiencing months of constant friction and avoidance from your partner? Or a lack of effort on your end, and hours of silent treatment from both of you, (there’s no point denying it.) You now find yourselves on the verge of a breakup.

Let’s be honest. You’re even on Google, typing the words:

“Is my marriage over?”

There are a thousand thoughts in your head, you’re not sure that you want to just walk away from this relationship. Yes, you’re tired of feeling unloved. There must be something better out there? But you’ve known your partner forever, you have amazing kids and you have made so many memories together. Your dreams for a happily ever after are disappearing in front of your eyes. Are you a quitter? No, you aren’t. 

So you two decide to give couples therapy a try as a final attempt to save your relationship.

The sooner you get in therapy, the better. The longer you wait, the more toxic and destructive bad relationship habits become. Habits such as yelling, ignoring, prioritising your feelings. Then, the harder it is to break them. Unfortunately, people tend to see couples therapy as an emergency measure, rather than a preventative one. It’s the equivalent of not worrying about those chest pains until you’re in an ambulance on the way to the hospital in full cardiac arrest. While couples therapy can certainly help in many situations, it isn’t the miracle magic wand solution. 

Below, I’ll tell you what couples therapy can actually solve and how to make the most of it.

There are no favourites. You are both the client.

I have, like most therapists, a “No Secrets Rule.” That means that everything you share individually with me is also shared with the other partner. For example, you can’t divulge an affair to me in an individual session and then expect me to conceal that from your partner. I don’t hide truths because I have formed an alliance with one partner, which could aggravate the mistrust that’s already in the relationship. Also, don’t expect one partner to be the focus of the therapy. Yes, even if that partner was the one who cheated. Even if they’re the individual that has the drinking problem. Or even if they’re the one who isn’t interested in sex anymore. This is about the both of you as a unit, not either of you as individuals. You are, after all, a couple.

Make an effort. For your own sake.

One of the hardest things for couples who are deciding whether or not to break up is that painful uncertainty often makes them reluctant to do the work. But doing this work will help you no matter what becomes of the relationship. Human beings behave in patterns. Whether we leave the relationship or not, we can never leave our baggage behind—it will follow us wherever we go until we resolve it. Neglect to do so and it’s likely you’ll repeat the same unhealthy behaviours, and the same patterns in your next relationship, too.

It’s not going to be easy.

Couples therapy requires an intense amount of emotional labor: to be vulnerable about your desires, to be honest about what you don’t like about your relationship, and to be open to hearing criticism of your own actions. Of course, it’ll be enlightening and fulfilling. But it will also be painful, grueling, and uncomfortable a lot of the time. As I said, it’s going to take time.

But, just as it took some time for the relationship to deteriorate to this low point, it’s going to take a while to get it back on track and functional. Changing the course of a relationship is going to take a lot of commitment. While the specific number of sessions depends entirely on the couple, on average, you can expect to spend anywhere from 12-30 hours. At one hour a week, that means it can take over six months of weekly sessions to get to a point where a couple feels like they’re ready to stop going to therapy.

Relationships are all about patterns. Therapy is all about changing those patterns.

Things are rarely what they seem to be. When your partner is annoyed about the clothes on the floor and starts shouting, it might actually be that they feel unappreciated and unloved. With couples therapy, ultimately the goal is to change the patterns of relating and create the love we want.

Your therapist is not going to tell you what to do.

You might already know that a therapist cannot give advice (annoying I know!) Knowing the right thing to do is far removed from actually doing it. Most couples know that their arguments are futile, hurtful, and unproductive, but it doesn’t stop them from having them. Plus, friends and family are usually more than willing to give you perfectly biased advice if that’s what you’re looking for.

Along the same line, therapists are not arbitrators. They can not—and will not—decide which of you is correct about the ending of inception or whether it’s actually important to separate lights and darks in the wash. Their job is to identify patterns that you and your partner engage in, and then to help you change those patterns. They help you by learning to respond with kindness instead of snapping, or by opening up about what you really need rather than shutting down. Anything that repeatedly presents as a stressor or a roadblock in the relationship is a pattern that can be addressed.

I can help you make a decision, though.

If deciding whether or not to break up is the main issue, coming to a mutual decision can be the goal of your therapy. I won’t ever be the one to say, ‘Yes, you should stay together’ or, ‘No, you shouldn’t.’ Hopefully through therapy, reflection and vulnerability, the couple will arrive at a decision. So, can I help them figure that out? Yes. Can I do that for them? Absolutely not.

Happy couples can (and should!) go to therapy.

You don’t need to wait until you’re about to break up. It’s certainly scary to ask your partner to go to therapy with you when things are basically going great. This is because we tend to think of couples therapy as a last-ditch effort. However, I would encourage even folks who are pretty satisfied in their relationships to seek out therapy. I think what might be helpful is for them to come in with certain goals. Those can be things like wanting to have a better sex life, or wanting to argue less, or having more productive conversations about money. Anything that’s causing friction or that is difficult to talk about is a good place to start. Therapy provides space for you to feel safe enough to express those things that they usually wouldn’t express otherwise.

If this is your situation and deep down, you know your relationship is worth saving, then call me today. If you both decide to go your separate ways, at least you will both leave your baggage behind without the regret of not trying.