How does Couples Therapy Work?

Society has progressed in leaps and bounds when it comes to embracing taking care of one’s mental health. The plethora of therapies and counselling available to people has become normalised as healthcare. Loving ourselves before loving anyone else is a common adage. So what if a couple needs help within their relationship and how they relate to each other?

Couples therapy can sometimes feel intimidating. Hopefully after this article, you will have some reassurance about your decision to incorporate couples therapy into your relationship and feel equipped with some knowledge of what to expect from it. We’ve asked Kate West, one of our therapists at The Therapy Clinic, some common questions about couples therapy.

What is the most common problem addressed in couples therapy?

You might be wondering if you’re experiencing the same issue or issues in your relationship as other people. Therefore, it might be helpful to know the common issues people go to couples therapy with. Here’s what Kate has observed:

“A feeling of disconnection – usually it’s an emotional disconnection that brings couples to therapy but this typically impacts a couple’s physical connection too. Conflict is probably the most common reason for the disconnection, feeling stuck in a pattern of blame. Or a sense

the other partner doesn’t notice them, is not accessible, responsive and engaged.

This creates a feeling of loneliness in a relationship and triggers our core fears around rejection and abandonment – we then move to often maladaptive ways of managing in turn creating further distress. Couples work really hard to resolve their struggles, but typically these ways of attempting to resolve can actually contribute to the problem, so couples go round and round in the same pattern.”

Disconnection often stems from misunderstanding each other. Did you know that people have different attachment styles and this can cause many of the communication problems in relationships? Check out our blog post on attachment theory and see if any of these resonate with you.

What anxieties do people have about approaching couples therapy?

It’s natural to feel nervous initially about taking this step in your relationship. Hopefully Kate’s answer makes you feel your anxieties are validated:

“Couples feel anxious coming into a space where they anticipate blame and judgement – no one wants to be labelled as the problem in the relationship. This is not what couples therapy is about and we work hard to move partners away from judgement and blame to look at what the emotions are underneath this.

“No one wants to be labelled as the problem in the relationship”

Couples therapy is usually the last port of call – typically couples wait an average of 6 years after identifying they need help to actually seek help, during which time the distress usually intensifies. So by the time they come into the space they feel like it’s all hanging in the balance. This is understandably anxiety inducing for couples who fear feeling they’ll need to make a decision as to the direction of the relationship. Again we steer couples away from this pressure and instead suggest just taking some time to make sense of how they’ve got to this place.

A contributing factor to the resistance in seeking help is a feeling of ‘we should be able to sort this out ourselves’ and/or ‘we don’t need someone else involved in our relationship’. All couples get stuck and it’s very hard to move out of these stuck places without some outside help.”

Feeling stuck in a cycle? Our services can help.

How should I approach the topic of couples therapy with my partner?

Couples therapy can help at any stage of a relationship, so rather than it feel like a communication of a distressed relationship/dissatisfaction/unhappiness/blame – i.e. ‘I’m really not happy with you, I think we need some help’, then approach it from a positive place of ‘couples therapy could help us feel more connected, I’d like to feel closer to you’, or ‘I think we’re a bit stuck, we keep playing out the same pattern of communication that’s not working for us, we should get some help with this’.

In this way, the partner is more likely to hear it as a reach for connection rather than an attack that can be experienced as a danger. It’s important to approach it from a place of both partner’s needing the help and support rather than one feeling like the problem. No one wants to come into a space where they feel they’ll be attacked, criticised or blamed.

It might also help to suggest it as ‘let’s just go for a meeting and see how we feel’. We appreciate that couples need to feel comfortable and that their therapist is a good fit. Plus that initial session will give you a much better idea of what the process will look like and you’ll be better able to decide how you’d like to proceed following that.”

“Approach it from a positive place of ‘couples therapy could help us feel more connected, I’d like to feel closer to you”

It’s not a weakness to need external help. Learn more about our couples therapy approach.

What can I expect from couples therapy at The Therapy Clinic?

Hopefully this blog post has helped you to feel prepared for couples therapy in general. Are you local to Brighton on Hove? Read on to learn what to expect from our therapy clinic:

“In the initial session we’ll work to get an understanding of what’s led you to seek help, how it feels for each partner in the relationship and what each partner would like from the process. We’ll also talk to you about how we work and what to expect as the work progresses.

From there, typically we’d work to all build an understanding of how you’re getting stuck in your communication and why, and help you to send clear coherent and direct communications around your emotions and your needs from your partner.

This builds trust, safety and intimacy. There is no one size fits all, though, so it really does depend on the individual couple. It might be that there’s been an injury to the relationship that’s completely eroded the feeling of trust, or a couple is struggling to agree on a specific aspect of their lives together, or they might be looking for help separating. You can expect that we’ll tailor our approach according to your relationship needs.”