Couples Therapy: Overview & Purpose
Couples therapy (also known as couples counseling) is a distinct form of therapy that is used to guide relationships through communication, connection, commitment, and conflict, among other shared spaces in partnership. In couples counseling, it is the relationship which is looked at through the therapeutic lens, supported by the understanding of what each partner brings into that relationship, which might be adding to, or taking from, the stability of its foundation.
Couples therapy is unique from individual therapy in this way; relationship satisfaction is the primary measure examined in treatment. While each partner is encouraged to recognize how they, themselves, show up to the collective experience of the relationship, they are equally challenged to hold space for their partner’s distinct perspectives and explore their contributions to the interpersonal dynamic. This duality serves to both extract the unhealthy patterns that exist within the couple, while building upon the healthy ones to direct desired change. If you are considering seeking couples counseling, take a look at our New York Behavioral Health approach.
Reasons Couples Might Seek Therapy
There are many reasons for a couple to seek therapy, which could align with solving an ongoing problem or addressing a current issue, as well as enhancing your current circumstance and preventing future issues. In a study published in the Journal of Family Therapy, research supports the effectiveness of couples therapy in enhancing marital satisfaction. Moreover, it supports the effectiveness of couples therapy addressing ‘individual’ problems such as depression or anxiety, and is seen as a context where partners can help each other grow and promote resilience (Byrne et al., 2004).
Couples who decide to try therapy are often diverse in their needs and what they are looking to accomplish. Some common reasons couples might seek treatment involve persistent arguing and an inability to find mutual resolve, issues with trust, waning emotional or physical intimacy, parenting differences, blaming and shaming, infidelity, loss of connection, differing values systems, and deceit.
As noted, there can also be singular partner circumstances that greatly impact the relationship as a whole, and the couple needs help navigating such issues. Some examples here concern the mental health of a partner, a partner working through using, abusing, or addiction issues, an emotionally distant partner, a partner struggling with anger or control, and a partner who has difficulty with commitment.
Types of Couples Therapy
The diversity of couples therapy treatment spans the same spectrum of individual therapy in counseling. Behavioral Marital Therapy, Imago Relationship Therapy, The Gottman Method, Integrative Couple Therapy, Emotion Focused Therapy, Solution-Focused Couple Therapy, Narrative Couple Therapy, and Psychodynamic Couple Therapy are just some of the therapeutic forms you’ll come across.
Though their time of practice in the field of couples counseling is varied, each of these therapeutic forms is guided by clinically significant research to develop a model, approach, and assistive techniques to promote couples resolve and increased quality-of-relationship. In a study published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, “Various versions of couples therapy produce moderate and statistically significant effects” (Shadish & Baldwin, 2003).
The type of therapy your counselor ascribes to will also dictate the way each session is managed and the intended outcomes of the work you will do, so doing your research is encouraged to find the therapeutic treatment that will be most pertinent to you, your partner, and your relationship.
Goals of Couples Therapy
The goals of couples counseling will be directly aligned to your presenting concerns and why you are seeking couples treatment. The therapist might also address goals that would be beneficial for relationship upkeep after therapy is complete. Goals are framed by what can be increased or decreased in order for treatment to be successful. Couples often come to counseling looking to change unhealthy patterns, behaviors, beliefs, and styles of communication in the relationship.
Some goals could look like decreasing conflict in the partnership, identifying and altering the negative communication patterns, minimizing stress and behaviors that are hindering the relationship, and eliminating harmful contributors to the couples success. These goals can also look like increasing love, respect, intimacy, and connection in the partnership, developing a healthy system for communication and functioning, adding in behaviors that aid in relationship success, and working on skills that address acceptance, commitment, bonding, trust, and partner satisfaction.
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Intended Outcomes of Couples Therapy
While goals seek to address the time-sensitive needs of the clients and the work that will be achieved shorter-term in therapy, intended outcomes are the lasting benefits couples may experience after their time in couples therapy has ended. These can be considered the hopeful elements partners look to gain from reaching their goals and moving forward in their relationship. Put into perspective, each goal is the first domino in a line of positive aftereffects.
Some intended outcomes may include lasting emotional, physical, and psychological connection, increased overall partner satisfaction, feeling more loved, desired, appreciated, and cared for, deepened stability between one another and understanding of one another, an overall curiosity and interest taken in each other, continued growth towards, rather than away from, their partnership, and an increased awareness of the partners wants, needs, and desires, as an individual and within the partner connection. At NYBH, lasting outcomes are prioritized in the couples therapeutic journey.
Challenges of Couples Therapy
As with most aspects of life that encourage growth, challenge is inevitable and a natural part of the counseling process. Working from the typical therapeutic challenges that one might encounter with individual therapy, couples therapy seemingly takes those hurdles and multiplies them times two. Coordinating two schedules, finding middle ground, working with your partner through deeply-ingrained issues, being more or less invested in the process than your partner, managing vulnerability and discomfort, going through and processing real-time conflict, and only having the power to control what you, not your partner, does, are all common examples of the difficulties couples face in their counseling work together.
This begs the point that therapy is not a guaranteed solution, but the outputs of counseling often mirror the inputs. In the Journal of Family Theory and Review, The Gottman Institute published an article which reads “We use the term manage conflict rather than resolve conflict. It is not our goal to eliminate conflict, because our data show that conflict is natural and inevitable, and it has functional, positive aspects” (Gottman & Schwartz Gottman, 2017). Here, it is most important to note that the long-term benefits which arise from working through the “tough stuff” frequently outweigh the short-term consequences of difficulty in circumstance.
What A Couples Therapy Session Might Look Like
Depending on the couple’s presenting concerns, goals for therapy, and therapeutic approach, couples counseling can look very different from couple to couple. All sessions will start with an intake to gather more information, and many sessions will incorporate some type of goal setting and treatment planning with the couple. However, beyond this, style, technique, and approach will be dependent on the expertise of the therapist.
Some couples will work through conflict in session, while other couples will work on skills in session to be able to work through conflict outside of session. Some therapists may prioritize love and connection while others may prioritize process and communication. Additionally, some sessions might dive into the historical components of the relationship while others may stay in the present and work on forecasting future scenarios. With this in mind, finding a therapist that fits your and your partner’s level of comfort will become a priority to help ensure a successful therapeutic experience.
How to Find Couples Therapy in NYC
Finding couples therapy in NYC might feel overwhelming at first, but the volume of couples counselors in the city means that there is likely a perfect fit out there for you and your partner. An internet search in your area, referrals from family, friends, or coworkers, checking in with your individual therapist if you have one, and looking up couples counselors based on presenting problems or type of therapy are all great places to start.
Though insurance doesn’t always cover couples therapy, it is also a place to check to see what your benefits might be in-network; there could be partial reimbursement in certain circumstances. New York Behavioral Health also has many qualified couples counselors, and would be a great place to start your couples therapy journey!
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Byrne, M., Carr, A., & Clark, M. (2004). The efficacy of couples-based interventions for panic disorder with agoraphobia. Journal of Family Therapy, 26(2), 105–125. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6427.2004.00273.x
Gottman, J., & Schwartz Gottman, J. 2017). The natural principles of love. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 9(1), 7–26 7. https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12182
Shadish, W. R., & Baldwin, S. A. (2003). Meta-analysis of MFT interventions. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 29(4), 547–570. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2003.tb01694.x