A Therapist Tells You Why Couples' Therapy Isn’t Working For You
When it comes to couples' therapy, you get what you give.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | March 14, 2023
Couples' therapy is often touted as a panacea for all relationship problems. However, it is common for people to feel like couples' therapy is not working for them. They may say things like:
- "I never feel heard in our sessions. How are we supposed to make things better when the therapist only knows one side of the story?"
- "I never feel like an individual in couples therapy, we're always addressed as a unit. Am I the problem here?"
- "Couples therapy makes me feel good temporarily, but our old problems come back over and over again. Should we change our therapist or the type of therapy itself?"
Every human being is a collection of their own unique experiences, desires, and traumas. Things get even more complex when two people come together and their lives intertwine. It is not surprising, then, that it may take you some trial and error to find the right couples' therapist or even the right kind of therapy.
Here are three reasons why couples' therapy may not be working for you and what you can do about it.
#1. Individual issues might be hindering teamwork
Sometimes, individual issues can prevent couples therapy from being effective. If one or both partners are struggling with personal issues like anxiety, depression, or addiction, these issues may need to be addressed before you can effectively work on your relationship.
A study published in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy explains how one participant's childhood trauma eclipsed treatment for the other participant and for the couple by causing a 'split alliance,' where the couples' therapy became more individually-focused at the expense of the relationship therapy.
If you feel like individual issues are preventing you from making progress in couples' therapy, you might want to address these issues separately with a qualified therapist or mental health professional. Once you've addressed these individual issues, you can refocus on working on your relationship.
#2. You may be slacking
Couples' therapy requires a significant commitment from both partners. You must be willing to put in the time and effort to work on your relationship. If one or both partners are not fully committed, therapy may not be effective.
There are many reasons you or your partner might be, consciously or unconsciously, avoiding therapy. It is important, at this point, to ask yourself if you're skipping or delaying couples' therapy to run away from the issue or to avoid being vulnerable.
In situations like these, you must remind yourself that therapy as a process is challenging, and that relying on pure willpower to make it through your sessions might not be enough. To avoid procrastinating on an activity you find to be mentally or emotionally challenging, it's best to add it to your roster of habits. This is according to research published in Psychological Science.
Add your sessions to your calendar, ask your therapist to hold you accountable, and clear out all other stressful commitments on your therapy days to create a 'friction-free' environment for yourself and your partner. The positive effects of couples' therapy compound when sessions occur regularly and on schedule.
#3. You may have unrealistic expectations
Starting couples' therapy in the hopes of changing your partner is a recipe for disaster. Couples' therapy is a space where partners come together, with a therapist/mediator, to speak openly and honestly about their feelings and problems happening in their relationship. If one partner doesn't feel safe or comfortable honestly sharing the dynamics of what is happening in the relationship, little progress can be made.
Trust and honesty are at the cornerstone of every healthy relationship. If you are having difficulty practicing radical honesty with your partner inside and outside of the therapy office, you're likely to waste your time and money.
It can take a few tries to find your rhythm with couples' therapy but the results can be immensely rewarding. Once you are past the first few difficult weeks, the journey will become easier and more fruitful.