So often people ask me about engaging in couple's therapy. Some are very clear about their goals, are on the same page, and are both are dedicated to fixing the issues they are struggling with. Other couples have one partner invested, and one who does not really want to be involved in the process. They are being dragged in against their true will. Some members of a couple ask for a guarantee that the couple's therapy will fix their relationship, when the fact is that 40-50% of these couples will still divorce or break-up. That may seem high, but you have to remember that the couples coming in are often doing so as a last resort, and there are serious and fundamental issues they are struggling with. So let's talk briefly about what couples therapy is and is not, so that you can get a better idea if it might be for you, and if you are thinking about it realistically.
1) Couples therapy IS, an opportunity. It is a chance for the two people who agree to this process to come and work through some issues they are having and strengthen their marriage. It allows them the opportunity to work through, and past, old issues, and to let go of past resentments that hurt their functioning in the present.
2) Couples therapy IS a wonderful opportunity to have an unbiased third party help you find middle ground, and a resolution that makes each partner happy. It is a chance to have that person "interpret" somethings each of the members is saying to the other, as often we are willing to hear something more openly from an outside source.
3) Couples therapy IS, a place to go and focus on solutions and problem-solving. It is not a place for blame, threats, and dredging up the past. If you want a future with each other, you need help to find closure and movement towards your present and future together, and what that can and should look like. A therapist can help you address these issues and navigate the process.
4) Couples therapy IS NOT, a place to go where one partner wants to get help, and the other party is strongly opposed to going. One of the most important factors to the work is at least a partial willingness by each partner to do the work, and hopefully fix the relationship. The goal should be that both people want to see if there is a chance to work things out, not that one has already decided they are done with 100% certainty.
5) Couples therapy IS NOT, a guarantee. Often people ask for a guarantee that the therapy will work, and that it will save their relationship. This can even be in situations when one partner is going into the process against their wishes. Sometimes a partner is still even actively involved in an affair. The fact is that 40-50% of these couples will still divorce. While this is lower than the general population, it is still significant. This is because, often, the individuals who enter therapy are already in a seriously damaged relationship, and this is a last straw. Sometimes their lawyers and mediators have asked they try this before divorce, or sometimes one partner agrees, even though they have already made up their mind to end the relationship.
6) Couples therapy IS NOT, a place to be if one partner is still actively engaged in an affair, if they are not doing any work on the relationship between sessions, or if both individuals are not going to be honest. If there is a lack of desire to work on the relationship, a lack of effort, and a lack of transparency in the process, the outcome is not likely to be positive. This is not to say that individuals cannot change their minds and start to work, but that shift MUST take place.
Regardless, the most important component to a successful experience in couple's therapy is when two people both willingly enter the process, and are both working towards a mutual goal of repairing their relationship. If there is love and willingness underlying the process, this is the single most important ingredient for success. If both people have an open mind, an open heart, and common goals, there is almost no issue that cannot be worked on, and past. So, go in with a realistic attitude, but also a motivated and open hearted one, and you are very likely to achieve success.