What to Expect from Couples Therapy

How does couples therapy work?
on September 11, 2023
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

When relationships get tough, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. Couples therapy is designed to help you work through your relationship issues with the help of a professional by your side — giving you the techniques and the strength needed to move your relationship from a place of disconnection to a deeper secure connection. 

For some, that means an entire rebuild of your relationship for others it's opening up healthier patterns of communication. Even though couples therapy is a positive step to take in a relationship, it comes with a lot of questions. 

What happens in couples therapy? How can couples therapy help? Is there a point to couples therapy? 

Before deciding to start couples therapy, it’s important to understand how it works and whether it’s the right choice for your relationship. This choice should be taken as a couple, as this kind of therapy doesn’t work without teamwork. 

What is couples therapy? 

Couples therapy, also known as marriage counseling or couples counseling, is a form of psychotherapy to help couples resolve conflict and improve their relationship. 

Although there are various types of couples therapy, it always involves a trained therapist who works with both individuals to address the various issues they may be facing in their relationship. 

Couples therapy is designed to enhance communication and understanding between partners, with the therapist providing a neutral and supportive environment where couples can speak openly to resolve their problems. To the therapist the client is the relationship as a whole and not an individual client, this orientation to the work tends to bring balance.

Types of couples therapy

There are various types of couples therapy available, with different methods and approaches used depending on the therapist in question and the issues the couple is facing. 

  1. Imago Relationship Therapy 

  2. Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) 

  3. Cognitive-Behavioral Couples Therapy (CBCT) 

  4. Integrative Couples Therapy 

  5. Narrative Therapy 

  6. Psychodynamic Couples Therapy 

  7. Reflective listening 

  8. Relational life therapy 

These approaches may overlap with therapists often integrating multiple techniques based on the needs of the couple in question. The choice of therapy depends on your chosen therapist, as well as your initial assessment.  

How does couples therapy work? 

Couples therapy works or aims to work, by helping romantic partners to address issues or challenges they may be facing. It intends to give couples the space and the tools to improve communication and resolve conflicts, with the intent of improving the overall quality of the relationship. 

Depending on your chosen couples therapist, and the specific issues that you’re facing in your relationship, there are numerous approaches that therapists can take to help. 

“When starting couples therapy, it’s important to consider the specific style that will be used,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Relationship Expert at Paired.

“Generally the couple will first share what’s causing conflict and what they hope to achieve with therapy. The therapist will assess each partner individually to gain a deep understanding of their perspective, history, and mental health.” 

Couples therapy typically involves joint counseling sessions where both partners aim to work through their relationship issues. However, individual therapy sessions can also be utilized if the therapist feels they are needed. 

With the help of a marriage counselor or licensed therapist, these in-person sessions aim to improve relationship satisfaction and restore a healthy relationship by teaching the couple new tools. 

“Through therapy, the couple will learn tools to understand their emotions better and communicate in a healthy way,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“A successful therapy outcome is when the couple feels more connected, experiences increased intimacy, and feels confident in handling disagreements.” 

Some couples speculate about the effectiveness of couples therapy, but it’s important to note that each couple's therapy experience is unique. With these couples therapy sessions, success is only possible if both partners are willing to take part — or else relationship counseling is made ineffective due to lack of participation.

What to expect from couples therapy

If you’ve never gone to therapy before, it can be daunting if you don’t know what to expect. Even though every therapist has different approaches, there are a few things that you can prepare for when going into therapy sessions. 

1. Initial assessment 

The first meeting with your therapist usually involves an initial assessment which helps to identify issues in your relationship and why you’re there. 

The therapist gathers information about the couple’s history, relationship dynamics, and any specific concerns they have. To ensure that these sessions are as helpful as possible, your therapist may suggest individual sessions in order to gather all of this information.

2. Establish goals 

After assessing your relationship, your relationship or family therapist will start to build strategies for success and establish goals for you to work towards as a team. 

Putting these goals in place gives the couple something tangible to work towards within the therapy sessions — making the overall process less daunting. Not only that but having these objectives can make the couple realize what they want from their future together, hopefully negating any thoughts of a breakup. 

3. Improve communication 

A breakdown in communication is one of the leading causes of relationship crises. Therefore, reestablishing lines of communication between romantic partners is often the first step of couples therapy. 

“The therapist used a variety of techniques to help the couple step out of unhealthy patterns of behavior to healthy ones,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“This includes moving from being defensive to being open to understanding yourself and your partner on a deeper level. Some clients grow the most in couples therapy when they have the therapist as a model for healthy communication. Since some people grew up without healthy communication modeled for them.” 

With these new communication skills, couples can hopefully work towards a healthier relationship — with the ability to work through issues by themselves in the future. 

4. Conflict resolution 

If relationships become defined by conflict, it’s very hard to work toward a resolution that satisfies both parties. Within the safe space that therapy provides, it’s easier to deal with these problems head-on — rather than allowing arguments to escalate to screaming matches or heated conflicts. 

With family therapy, the therapist can help you develop problem-solving skills that help you work towards healthy conflict resolution

5. Build trust 

Breaches of trust in a relationship, such as infidelity, can mean the end of a relationship. However, if the couple resolves to rebuild trust, there is hope for the future. 

“The couple will learn how to validate each other and their own emotions, have clearer boundaries, and have a renewed sense of shared values to work together as a team,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

By rebuilding trust, it’s easier to reestablish emotional and physical intimacy by leaning on the help of mental health professionals and therapists. 

6. Progress evaluation 

As you work with your therapist, it’s helpful to have relationship check-ins to monitor your progression. 

Depending on the therapy techniques employed, all the hard work won’t necessarily be confined to the couch. Instead, you may be encouraged to complete intimacy-building tasks or trust exercises at home, in order to aid your progress and boost your connection.

Who should consider couples therapy?

Couples therapy can be beneficial for couples who are experiencing various challenges or difficulties in their relationship. If you’re facing relationship issues, it can feel like a big step to involve therapists, but it’s not a crime to ask for help. 

While couples therapy is often reserved for couples in crises, there is no rule to say that you can’t work on your relationship all the time. Paired aims to give this kind of platform for couples, with expert advice on hand at all times. 

What kind of therapist is best for couples based on your needs? 

Every relationship is different, which means that every couple will have preferences for couples therapy. 

When you decide to trust someone in your relationship in the way that therapy requires, it’s important to find someone who you can rely on and be completely honest with. 

According to Seeger DeGeare, these are some questions to ask a therapist to see if they’re a good fit.

Do you treat couples, and do you have special training that supports your work with couples specifically? Do you think of couples working with an individual client, the relationship as a whole, or are you trained in more systems theory?
Do you have experience working with this particular issue or goal for therapy?
Do you have training and experience working with people who move in the world as I do? Be as specific as you can with the therapist as you work on finding a good fit.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do people delay going to therapy?

    Some couples delay going to therapy because it can feel like a defeat or a failure to ask for help. However, seeking help from a professional is a positive step in your relationship journey — even if it’s a difficult decision to make. If you’re delaying therapy because you can’t find the right therapist, online couples therapy is also available to ensure you get the help you need.
  • How long does couples therapy take?

    There is no set time for couples therapy. The duration of your marriage counseling will depend on the issues you’re facing. While some couples may have positive results in only a few sessions, others need more time. With couples therapy, it’s best not to put a timer on things. Let your therapist guide you through the process and don’t try to rush through things!
  • What kind of therapist is best for couples?

    Even though there are various methods and therapist techniques you can try, the best therapist is one you feel comfortable with and you feel you can trust. This is why it’s so important to take the time to choose your therapist as a couple, so you’re both happy to open up and work on your relationship. The goal is to walk away from your first session feeling like the therapist can understand you and that this is someone you can learn to build a trusting relationship with. The relationship between you and your therapist is one that is dependent on the desire to trust each other and collaborate in healing.
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