November 3, 2023
Choosing to go through life with someone by your side is a wonderful thing, but that doesn’t mean relationships aren’t hard work. Couples therapy is a great way to strengthen or rebuild your connection, navigate tough times, and check-in to nip issues in the bud before they become a problem.
Think of your relationship as a car and your therapist like a mechanic. You’re not going to wait until the wheels fall off before taking it to a mechanic, right? You’re going to go for regular oil changes and tune ups so that the car can keep running smoothly without you being blind-sided by problems. And if the wheels do come off? Well, then it’s definitely time for some overdue maintenance and repairs.
1. Who can benefit from couples therapy? Is it just for married or premarital couples?
AJ: It’s my opinion that EVERYONE could benefit from couples therapy! It’s so crucial to get a baseline of effective communication, understanding and friendship to promote a long-lasting relationship. Of course, those who are suffering relationship wounds (i.e. infidelity, substance use, and other trust issues) would benefit from a longer duration of sessions and intervention.
There’s also no reason to wait until something goes wrong- even dating couples can see positive results from a neutral third party perspective on their most common relationship conflicts. In fact, it’s protective to have early intervention and practice in communication.
JD: I love it when I see a couple come in for premarital therapy. They learn some tools before big life events happen, so they can be prepared for what’s to come.
2. What are some common issues or topics that you see in couples therapy?
AJ: Other than the common issues of trust violations (infidelity, dishonesty about substances or money), a loss of connection is a big issue I see. Friendship is central to the health of a relationship, and it’s also the easiest aspect to fall to the wayside with the busyness of life. One thing I love working with couples on is how to reconnect to your partner and rebuild that friendship- once fondness and admiration are re-established (Gottman’s theory), couples are better able to engage in productive conflict resolution.
JD: I used to say I was going to write a book titled “Sex and dirty dishes”, because for a while I saw a trend of couples arguing about those 2 topics. The frequency of intimacy and the distribution of household chores seem to come up often. What lies beneath that is loneliness in their marriage or feelings of not being valued.
3. You both love the Gottman methods and theories – what’s so great about it?
AJ: I love anything research-based and practical, and Gottman’s theory delivers so many great exercises and tips. I also find it to be approachable for people who are new to therapy, which is a big plus for people who may feel hesitant with vulnerability.
JD: It’s the best that we have as far as 50 plus years of data from couples counseling. You can’t argue with data.
4. What can I expect in a couples therapy session?
AJ: I like to get a thorough history of the relationship and always want to incorporate what actually works in the partnership. It’s so easy to get bogged down by the stress and turmoil of the day-to-day that I find it helpful to investigate what connection is still there (whether it be past or present). After gaining a thorough knowledge of the couple, I like to give ample time to both parties to explore their biggest issues in their relationship, and ensure each partner feels heard. I am also a big proponent of homework for couples therapy. There’s only so much that can be accomplished in a 50 min therapy session; the couple is on the hook for the hard work of rebuilding their connection.
JD: I am a strengths based therapist, so I start with identifying their partners strengths. I try to set a great foundation in the room so we can all come to an understanding of why it is, we care enough about each other to be in couples counseling.
5. Can couples therapy help people who are in the process of divorce (or already divorced) co-parent more effectively?
AJ: 100%. The communication issues don’t go away once you divorce; in fact, unless some of the resentment and hurt is worked through, more suffering is inevitable. I can help couples come up with a plan that works for both of them while centering their children’s needs. Children are just innocent bystanders in a relationship dissolution, and it’s crucial that their lives are as undisturbed as possible with the foundation of a co-parenting plan.
JD: Yes. Couples therapy can play a valuable role for individuals going through a divorce in several ways. They learn how to communicate better, they can gain co-parenting assistance and they can gain more understanding of themselves to take to their other relationships. Overall, I think it also provides closure for each person going forward.