Half of all marriages end in divorce. That is a staggering statistic. And yet, many people are terrified to seek help from a therapist when the going gets tough. They often worry about what it means about the health of the relationship if they need help. Couples may also fear getting blamed for the obstacles in the relationship. No one wants to be on the hot seat. And yet, couples also can’t seem to iron out the relationship wrinkles on their own. Let’s start to debunk some of the myths about marriage counseling that get in the way of couples picking up the phone.
Myth: The therapist must take a side. It’s the idea that the therapist will like one of you better. They are a person and will make a call as to who seems more “right” and proceed to discount the other partner’s side. This myth keeps people feeling hesitant to seek help.
Truth: We are trained to see your conflicts as information. There doesn’t need to be a winner or a “right” party. Rather, a quality Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) will want to understand what is happening relationally that causes the conflict from both partners’ perspective. Your fights don’t happen in a vacuum, but rather they are likely a result of you pinging off one another in repetitious ways. The LMFT will want to see the full picture to help make you aware of how to shift your interactions toward healthier patterns. You should both feel heard and supported during therapy.
Myth: The therapist wants you to stay together They will do anything to keep your marriage or relationship intact. That means someone is going to have to compromise and/or stay at any cost.
Truth: During couples therapy, the relationship is the client. That MFT is focused on the health of the relationship. Does it work? How does each person contribute to protecting it, nurturing it and helping it stay strong and vibrant? Therapists will likely be assessing in the beginning—to see where the strengths and weakness exist. Next comes the heavy lifting: you will be challenged to try new, possibly awkward and unfamiliar ways of interacting.
That could include homework between sessions or intentional, verbal acknowledgements to your partner. You will likely also be invited to share your feelings. Not just the ones bubbling on the surface that drove you to call for an appointment (possibly annoyance, anger, frustration, hopelessness) but also the ones that sit quietly underneath those others. These often include fear, loneliness, sadness, worthlessness and so many more. Therapists want what is best for the relationship—and sometimes that means assisting clients as they dissolve their partnership in a way that feels graceful and fair.
Myth: Fault needs to be assigned. Someone started or stopped doing something. Or someone had an affair, isn’t interested in sex, and the list goes on.
Truth: Often couples come in either pointing fingers at each other or blaming themselves. Partners are entrenched in their positions and have great difficulty considering another explanation for their challenges. Therapy is infinitely more successful when the partners can start to see the fuller picture. When they can start to soften and see the other’s position and say so. Things change as couples realize that relationships are fluid, ever-changing exchanges between two separate people. Every partnership has perpetual problems—differences in how you do things or preferences. The work is not to determine whose way is better, but rather to negotiate how you will handle that thing in a way that feels satisfying enough to both people.
Often couples can see a shift in their dynamic with only a few sessions. Simply having someone hold the space and inquire about how they relate brings about awareness that causes subtle changes. Each partner knows better how they trigger and/or how they can better support the other to strengthen the bond.
Jenn Kennedy is a MFT based in Santa Barbara, CA. She specializes in couples, addiction and LGBT. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-699-6834.