The feeling that couples therapy is scary is a common one. So if that is your perspective on starting couples therapy, you are not alone. However, the proper response to this fear is not to dismiss the idea of couples therapy. The honest response to this fear is more of a question: Is couples therapy as scary as what will happen by continuing to put off the relational dynamics that are putting stress on you and your relationship?
As we think about the fear of taking a step toward couples therapy, we can apply a business principle used by Peter Druker, “if you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” To put this into relational jargon, if you want to develop a different way of relating within your relationship, then you’ll have to identify the “old” way and try something “new.” The way change occurs is by first observing the routines you follow as a couple and then introducing changes to those routines to better your relationship’s wellbeing. As you can imagine, when couples try something new, it can often create initial tension as the relationship moves toward health.
A couple’s therapist provides a safe environment as a non-partial observer who reviews the relationship’s patterns. As you introduce new dynamics, and old ones get put away, a therapist can help a couple orient themselves to the changes they are making and to the goals that the couple is pursuing. A couple’s therapist does not focus on who is right or who is wrong, but on what is getting in the way of the relationship’s success. Sometimes the challenges are recovering from infidelity, unhealthy communication patterns, or feelings of not being respected or lacking intimacy. However, no matter the challenge, a couple’s therapist sees beyond each person and more into the relationship’s system. So if couple’s therapy is not about figuring out who is right and who is wrong and is actually about the health of the relationship, what are some other scary reasons that could be holding you back from improving your relationship?
1. “It’s a financial commitment, and what if it doesn’t help.”
When we decide to purchase material items, we think about why we need it, why we want it, how much it costs, and how long it will last or what it will be worth over time. Committing to your future as a couple could follow the same kind of logic. Working with your therapist, you can determine the goals that you have for therapy and create an understanding as to the ways that you can measure the “return on your investment.” Think of therapy as an investment in a satisfying and healthy relationship that enables you to determine how you can care for yourself and your relationship. Investing in your relationship now, financially and emotionally, may actually prevent a far greater cost at another point in time.
2. “Couples therapy or therapy, in general, is for people that have problems.”
Merriam Webster dictionary defines a problem as “a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution.” With this definition in mind, we can confirm that therapy is for the parts of our lives, as individuals or as a couple, that causes us to question, inquire, or consider potential solutions. Therapy provides a safe space to talk about questions concerning yourself, your partner, and your relationship freely. Couples counseling can benefit any relationship struggling to figure out the reason behind bad feelings and ineffective communication patterns. Taking the initiative to address small problems now can eliminate the need to confront significant issues later. By addressing problems sooner rather than later, when changing patterns will require more energy, time, and money, the relationship can develop resilience to overcome issues as they arise.
3. “It feels unnatural to tell someone that I don’t know about how I feel.” or “I don’t want to bring up the things that we already agreed not to talk about anymore.”
Asking for help from someone you do not know is hard. Heck, asking for help, in general, is difficult. Entering into couples therapy can feel like telling the story of your life and relationship. A couple’s counselor will ask for your story and help you make connections to each of the characters in your life. This process allows you to process how each character has influenced your individual and collective perspectives. Along the way, you will inevitably start wondering, “how is this story going to end?” or “how would our story look if we changed even one detail?” A counselor will listen for every detail and help you and your partner find the connections in your story that can be strengthened and fostered for future happiness; or a different ending. Will telling your relational story mean talking about past hurts or areas of concern in the relationship? Probably, but those feelings are there whether you talk about them or not. Pretending things “will get better” generally does not lead to things getting better. The benefit of addressing difficult things in couple’s therapy is to learn how to identify unhelpful dynamics so that you can work through them, learn from them, and grow closer together.
Often clients will offer the feedback that they wished they would have known the benefits of couple’s therapy and began therapy long before they did. To me, the scariest thing about couple’s therapy is not starting the process of therapy but rather neglecting therapy’s helpfulness to foster opportunities for healing and growth. Leaving behind the old ways of doing things gives us, individually and collectively, a chance to heal and grow. If you’d like to learn more about overcoming any fear related to couple’s therapy or if you would like to get started today, click here to schedule your free 15-minute consultation.