Is Couples Therapy Worth It? What You Should Know About Couples Counseling
Emotional & Mental Wellness
By Jesse Huebner, MA, LPCC & Trevor Brown, MA, LPC
Is couples therapy worth it?
If you’ve experienced difficulty in a relationship and you’re wondering if couples therapy can help, we will help you explore some of the most common questions people ask about couples counseling.
You might be wondering “is couples therapy worth it?” Before you invest your time and energy into therapy it’s worth doing some research so you know what you’re committing to and what you can expect.
We asked two couples therapists to share their insights on some of the most common questions about couples therapy. Jesse Huebner is a relationship counselor in Denver, Colorado & Trevor Brown is a marriage and family therapist in Denver, Colorado.
We will cover common questions such as:
- Does couples therapy really work?
- What’s the success of couples therapy?
- Can couples therapy make things worse?
- What do you talk about in couples therapy?
- How often should you go to couples counseling?
- Should you go to couples therapy before marriage?
- And more…
Couples therapy is similar to anything else you invest yourself into, you will get out of it what you’re willing to put into it. If you’re unwilling to do the work asked by your therapist and partner you may not see the results you would like to see in your relationship.
If you’re invested in the couples counseling process you can see great results in your relationship satisfaction and in your own personal happiness.
Does couples therapy really work?
Jesse Huebner provides couples counseling in Denver, Colorado and says “Absolutely! I didn’t get into counseling initially with a desire to focus on couples and relationships, but throughout the years I’ve realized how impactful this space is for clients that I have been drawn more and more into this work. I’m not exaggerating when I say I see breakthroughs and progress every week. Not only am I seeing it, but I hear couples tell me all the time how helpful our sessions are and how good it feels to be going in the right direction.”
How does couples counseling work?
There are many different approaches, techniques, and skills in couples therapy but for the most part they all have a few things in common.
First, think of the counselor as a professional facilitator helping you reprocess through modeling communication, feedback, and validation. The counselor is also a feedback loop, helping bring to light dysfunctional patterns, negative coping skills, and problematic interactions.
The counselor then helps to provide a different way of interacting. In the specific type of couples therapy I largely draw from, Gottman and EFT, we heavily focus on using the session time to reprocess and choreograph the exact type of interactions you desire outside of the session.
The relationship with your counselor is also paramount because it’s a real relationship, it’s a professional relationship but it’s still a real relationship in which you can practice and change how you interact in relationships with the belief that these interactions will begin to take place outside of session.
What is the success rate of couples therapy?
The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists demonstrates that nearly 90% of couples report an improvement after couples counseling.
Additionally, 98% of marriage and family therapists report good or excellent results. One of the biggest impacts on the success of couples therapy is the partners wanting to improve their relationship.
Put simply, if you want it to get better, it can. The other biggest impact on the success of therapy is your rapport with the professional so make sure you find someone you feel comfortable opening up with and believe in their approach.
Can couples therapy make things worse?
Although highly unlikely, there is always the risk that any type of treatment, not just within counseling, can make things worse.
In fact, counseling has one of the lowest rates of clients reporting feeling worse than when they started.
When I begin to notice a couple isn’t making progress toward their goals or they are backsliding, we use this in session, and it’s important to quickly address this shift the approach and realign to the goal.
More often I find that couples sometimes report feeling worse about their relationship during the beginning of couples therapy but I believe this is because they are now facing their issues head on, having the hard conversations about their relationship, processing painful feelings & experiences, and potentially discovering their own or their partner’s deal breakers.
What do you talk about in couples therapy?
It goes without saying that discussion involving the relationship takes center stage, but nothing is off limits! Open, honest dialogue is highly encouraged and is seen as an essential factor in the progression of therapy.
There are times when your couples therapist may explore each partner’s individual life history and current challenges (which can look a bit like individual therapy), but the information is always pursued in the interest of improving the overall functioning of the relationship.
Here are just a few themes that you can expect to be explored: relationship history (individual history and history as a couple), current and past relationship challenges, family of origin dynamics, emotional regulation, attachment style, emotional triggers, agreements between the couple, and behavioral changes.
Open, honest dialogue is highly encouraged and is seen as an essential factor in the progression of couples therapy.
How often should you go to couples therapy?
I typically recommend beginning couples counseling with weekly sessions. This helps to build momentum quickly. At the start of couples therapy, there is quite a bit to unpack in order to get your therapist up to speed.
Your therapist is also likely to recommend behavioral changes in the interest of an improved relationship. These changes are oftentimes counter-intuitive. As such, when there is too much time between sessions, couples may want to forget about the suggestions and fall back into the patterns that brought them to therapy in the first place.
That being said, not everybody is able to come in weekly for various reasons (financial reasons, time reasons, etc.). In such cases, bi-weekly sessions are a viable alternative. Sessions that are as infrequent as once a month may not have the impact that you would like to see.
What should I not tell a marriage counselor?
You have a right to your privacy. Always. If there is anything that you feel uncomfortable divulging, it is your right to keep it to yourself.
In the beginning of the therapeutic relationship, you are likely assessing the degree to which you feel you can trust your couples therapist. As such, it would make sense that you are somewhat cautious about sharing certain aspects of yourself and your relationship.
As the therapy progresses, you may feel more inclined to open up about all the pieces of your life story/relationship story. If you have the sense that something you are choosing not to disclose is inhibiting the progression of the therapy, ideally you would be able to discuss that with an individual therapist. If that’s not possible, then discussing your fears around talking about “it” (without naming “it”), in couples therapy, is helpful.
When I begin therapy with a new client I often tell them that you don’t have to tell me your deepest darkest secrets the first time we meet. There should be a natural progression in therapy and as we build trust in the therapy relationship you should feel more comfortable sharing personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Legally speaking, a couples therapist operates under the same Code of Ethics as an individual therapist. Accordingly, if information is shared about an imminent intent to harm self or other, a couples therapist is obligated to report to the appropriate authorities.
Should you go to couples therapy before marriage?
In recent years, the moniker “couples therapy” has largely replaced “marital therapy”. This is due to the recognition that pre-marital counseling is of incredible value.
In other words, couples therapy needn’t be reserved only for marriage. In fact, addressing maladaptive patterns early on, before they have become firmly entrenched, is incredibly useful.
We can use the metaphor of “teaching an old dog new tricks,” or attempting to correct your golf swing after 20 years. Although both are possible, there is much more patterning to unwind.
The sooner a couple comes in for counseling, the easier it is to address the aspects of the relationship that are causing (or sure to one day cause) difficulties.
When is couples therapy not appropriate?
If you know that you are definitively not interested in either continuing or improving the relationship, no amount of couples therapy is going to change that.
You wouldn’t be doing any favors to yourself, your partner, or the therapist by showing up to something that you secretly have no interest in. In these cases, it is probably best to find a way to end the relationship as kindly as possible.
If people don’t know how to do that, they will sometimes come to couples therapy for a session or two in order to get assistance with ending the relationship. This isn’t a problem.
However, pretending to work on the relationship, while secretly withholding your full participation, is as good as throwing your money to the wind.
How do I prepare for my first couples counseling session?
It’s recommend that you talk with your partner about your goals for therapy in preparation for the first session. Take a few minutes and write down your answer to this question, “In 3 months from now, what concrete change do I want to see in my relationship?”
Additionally, you should complete any paperwork the counselor sends you ahead of time. This ensures your full counseling session can be used to begin the work as opposed to completing paperwork. Some paperwork can take 15 minutes or longer so it’s important to try to knock this out beforehand.
Ensure you have all the logistics fairly well understood, how long it’s going to take to get to the office or if virtual do you have the correct software ready, do you know where to park, are you going to be rushed leaving to go to your session and after you leave or can you rearrange to make the time less stressful, and do you know how to get ahold of the counselor should any last minute issues arise.
Lastly, be willing to step into vulnerability and authenticity.
Jesse Huebner, MA, LPCC
Jesse is a relationship coach and counselor in Denver, Colorado that specializes in helping couples learn how to improve intimacy and connection in their relationship.
Trevor Brown, MA, LPC
Marriage and Family Therapist
Trevor is a marriage and family counselor in Denver, Colorado that helps couples navigate difficult issues such as questioning a relationship or dealing with anger and conflict.
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