misperceptions and approaches to couples therapy Jennifer Klesman

A number of people believe that going to couples therapy is the beginning of the end of their relationship. Many only have heard of it spoken in the context of, “We tried couples therapy and it didn’t work so we’re separating.” I have heard numerous fears about couples therapy, often focusing on not believing one will be heard or that they will be ganged up on.  So let’s take a look into debunking some common misperceptions and approaches to couples therapy.

Their job is to help

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “I want a therapist to tell them it isn’t working.” from a client. Well, that isn’t the therapist’s job. You are hiring the therapist as a third party to help repair the relationship. The therapist is not a parent you’re tattling on your partner to in order for them to be scolded into behaving better. There may be a point where it can be discussed if either party sees a future with the relationship, but otherwise, couples enter therapy with the expectation to improve things between them. 

Avoid relationship hospice 

Try to go to therapy before your relationship is on its last leg.  Many people don’t want to try it until they feel it is too bad to figure out on their own. However, waiting too long can be difficult to come back and heal from resentment and contempt. Typically couples therapists aren’t there to help you end your relationship unless you say that explicitly.  An example of this would be if you are divorcing and need to learn to co-exist and co-parent for children.

Everyone gets a voice

A number of people fear being ganged up on when in couples therapy. In reality, it isn’t couples therapy if only one person is talking.  A good therapist will give both of you space to be heard.  A good way to start off on the right foot is to approach couples therapy productively. My approach is that one partner first finds a number of couples therapists that they like. Next, they send that list (it has to have at least 2 people) to their partner to choose from.

This way each person has a say in who they see. When one person does all of the work in choosing a couples therapist, they can feel solely blamed or responsible when it doesn’t work or the person isn’t a good fit. This act also is a gesture from both partners that they are committed to playing a role in finding a solution. 

A blank slate

Another notion to add about everyone feeling heard is to not go to each other’s individual therapists for couples therapy. You want a blank slate when you speak to someone as a couple. If you go to one of your therapists, then one person already feels at a disadvantage. There is a history and relationship already formed so it is easy to feel that things aren’t balanced. They will feel that the therapist is biased favorably towards their partner or working against them. 

Agree on the issue

Talk to your partner about what you want to bring to the therapist. Before the first session, agree on what you both view as the issue that you’re seeing the therapist for. This helps create a united understanding of what needs to be addressed. It is okay to give broad strokes such as, ‘we have trouble communicating’ or ‘we aren’t having sex anymore’ because in therapy the details will be explored. You simply need to agree on the issue.

If you and your partner are looking for a couples therapist, reach out to Cityscape Counseling’s intake coordinator to find the right therapist for you.

Article by Jennifer Klesman, LCSW, a licensed Chicago therapist who specializes in treating a variety of mental health disorders with evidence based treatments. To schedule an appointment with her or one of our other therapists, contact intake@cityscapecounseling.com

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