When it feels like your relationship is dangling by a thread, pulled to a breaking point by years of arguments, eroded communication, growing apart, unraveling, or you just want more from your relationship—is couples therapy even worth it? Is there anything left to salvage in your relationship? Can couples counseling really make it better? Could it make it worse?
To help you decide whether your relationship would benefit from couples therapy, here are some of the insights that I uncovered from the thousands of sessions I’ve facilitated.
- Seeing the Wood for the Trees
While you’re in the thick of ongoing disconnection cycles—triggering each other, blaming, criticizing, defending, shutting down and deflecting—can you really expect to see the wood for the trees? It’s next to impossible for any of us to see clearly when we’re lost in those reactive states. We’re often so emotionally charged that we become unreasonable at best and destructive at worst.
Of course, it seems awful—and it really IS awful when those relationship struggles are happening to you. But that’s exactly why an experienced therapist is so valuable—not only do they bring a trained eye and a voice of reason to your situation, it’s also not happening to them. They are in a unique position to be able to provide exactly what you need first and foremost: PERSPECTIVE.
The PERSPECTIVE of the system that both you and your significant other are trapped in TOGETHER! The woods are the system. The Trees? Two of them, to be precise: you and your partner.
The hardest and most important thing to be able to do is see the woods, feel the pain, and see the reactions to the woods. This is so hard to do when you are a tree planted firmly within those woods. Your experienced and skilled couples therapist will be able to show you and your partner the woods perspective. This seems like a small thing, but I promise you it is the essential first step and it is literally priceless in the journey to improving your relationship.
Your therapist should also be able to facilitate a de-escalating of your triggering situations to get you to a calmer space where you can both think a little clearer and breathe a little easier.
Great! Now you can see the wood for the trees, so you already have a fighting chance. You’d be pretty surprised at how different just about everything starts looking at this stage. With that right third person to keep things under control, you will be amazed at how the path starts to become visible ahead of you.
- Getting Underneath the Surface Issues
If you go to couples therapy during a phase of fighting, a good couples therapist will be able to help you uncover the real dynamic going on beneath that surface dance of conflict, or “Waltz of Pain.”
Ironically, entering into couples therapy during a painful phase in your relationship can be an opportunity to get to a better place because the situation reveals vulnerabilities in each of you. With the right couples therapist you can transform these vulnerabilities from a relationship breakdown into a relationship breakthrough.
Suffering is the key ingredient a good couples therapist uses to help you transform. So don’t be discouraged if things seem hopeless. A good couples therapist will see the same hopelessness you feel as the fertile ground that deeper connection can grow from. Your sh*t is a good therapist’s fertilizer!
- Going From Bad to Safe Instead of From Bad to Ugly
The difficult thing about the vulnerable places inside us is that when those soft spots are threatened, we can quickly get reactive, become explosive, shut down, or some flavor in between those two. That’s when things can get ugly between a couple, and then the opportunity for transformation gets out of our reach. We are left disconnected from each other and even from ourselves!
A good couples therapist brings the skills, experience, and discernment to de-escalate these conflict situations, preventing you from re-traumatizing each other and keeping you safe in those vulnerable moments. They can keep you away from that “anything goes” ugly, ugly place that so often leads to regret and a loss of respect. They should also be able to keep a healthy space that helps you work through issues in a non-intimidating or overwhelming way.
Also—and I know this may be hard to believe—a good couples therapist can make this process fun and ensure many a good laugh along the way.
- No, the Light at the Other Side of the Tunnel Isn’t a Train!
Some couples are terrified of couples counseling because they feel that things are too close to a point of no return and that the vulnerabilities are just too much to face. Yet when the pain of fighting relentlessly or stagnating endlessly for the rest of your life stares you in the face, the vulnerability of therapy becomes way more than worth it.
As terrifying as it may seem, it really doesn’t have to be. In fact, couples therapy can have many moments of fun, learning, and even laughter along the journey! And with a third person in the room, it all gets a whole hell of a lot safer to navigate.
It really is only through navigating the vulnerabilities with empathy for both yourself and your significant other—a process that therapy can facilitate—that you can reach the light at the other side of the tunnel. Sometimes we just need the guidance of an expert in relationships to help us find our way safely to the other side of a relationship crisis.
So, is couples therapy worth it? Well, my extensive experience with helping so many couples heal and revitalise their relationships successfully leads me to believe in your relationship, too. I think you should give it a try, or “chance your arm” as the Irish saying goes. You may just find your partner is as desperate for a conflict solution as you are. None of us really wants to suffer emotional disconnection from our significant other—emotional disconnection is absolute suffering to us human beings!
The sad—yet also good—news is that we fight so much because we mean so much to each other. Can you hear that? They’re reacting to YOU because YOU matter to them! Let that give you some relief and guide your decision to reach out to a couples therapist if you need help.
Remember, on the other side of the mountain you have to climb to face your vulnerabilities are the sunny skies and lush fields you long for in your relationship.
The hardest part is getting started!