If you haven’t been in counseling before–or if you have and you had a less than stellar experience–you may feel nervous or have questions about what couples therapy will be like. Committed relationships hold our most private moments, and asking for help from a third party may bring up some fears or feelings of nervousness.
This post is meant to help address some of the most common concerns about couples therapy. My answers are my own opinions and reflect how I approach couples therapy. If you have a question that wasn’t included in this post, please feel free to reach out to me–I’m happy to help.
Will our therapist choose my partner’s side?
From my experience as a couples therapist, this is the most common concern I hear. You may fear that your counselor will meet with you, you’ll discuss your most private problems, and then the counselor will say something like, “your partner is right and you are wrong.” Suddenly, it’s two against one and a stranger is confirming that you are the problem.
I think this imagined scenario alone keeps a lot of couples out of therapy–this situation would suck! A skilled couples therapist is not interested in who is “right” and who is “wrong”; your therapist should be able to empathize with each person’s experience. I spend a lot of time reflecting the strengths I see in my clients and the positive intentions behind their interactions. You should feel safe working with your therapist to explore your relationship and come together with your partner to create positive change.
Will our counselor tell us we’re hopeless?
You might be nervous that after you expose your problems to your counselor, they will turn around and tell you that there’s no hope and you and your partner should separate. This is not the role of your therapist. In fact, it’s my belief that if a couple is willing to seek counseling, that in and of itself displays there is hope for the relationship.
It’s also helpful to remember that therapists are human; we, too, have experienced emotional pain and relationship struggles. It’s not our role to judge your difficulties, only to help you improve your relationship and lives.
People only go to couples therapy as a last resort before divorce, right?
Although the tide seems to be changing, there can still be a stigma associated with seeking couples counseling. Dr. John Gottman often shares that the average couple puts off asking for help for 6 years–and I wonder how much of this is related this stigma. I’ve heard from multiple couples that they didn’t want to start therapy because they feared it was the first step towards the end of their relationship.
I feel so sad for the couples who are living in pain and unhappiness when they could be getting help. You don’t need to feel ashamed when you want help; a lot of the strongest couples I know have participated in counseling. It takes courage, love, and resilience to work on your relationship–all wonderful qualities.
Will anyone find out what we talked about in therapy?
Your counselor has a responsibility to protect your confidentiality. Even if you were referred to your counselor by someone you know, your counselor will never tell that person that you ever came in without your permission.
There are some limits to confidentiality in place to keep you and others safe, mostly related to abuse; your therapist will review these limits during your first appointment.
Will talking about our problems make them worse?
Avoiding our problems can feel good in the moment, but it does not make them go away. Talking about our problems can sometimes be difficult and uncomfortable at first, but facing them is an opportunity to learn how to better love and be loved by your partner. Keeping our concerns and emotions inside can lead to resentment and contempt: poison for relationships.
Is it ever too late to start therapy?
I am optimistic for each couple who walks through my door, so I don’t believe it’s ever too late to start. I utilize research-based therapeutic methods that have shown to be effective even for the most distressed couples.
What if we don’t like our counselor?
Being able to build a good rapport and relationship with your therapist is one of the most important parts of therapy–you should feel comfortable with your counselor! If you have a problem with your therapist, my first suggestion is always to bring it up and see if you can work through the problem. If this doesn’t help–there is no reason you should not look for a counselor with whom you feel more comfortable!