Couples therapy is a type of counseling aimed at helping couples improve their relationship. The focus is on the issue or concern the couple brings to therapy, which will be different for every couple. Issues common to couples therapy include conflict, infidelity, jealousy, illness, addiction, job loss, and issues with children. Though often referred to as marriage counseling, couples need not be married to participate in couples therapy. Couples therapy can be useful for all relationships, regardless of sexual orientation, stage of relationship, and cultural background.
Couples therapy tends to be solution-focused. Typical goals for therapy include helping couples recognize and resolve conflict, improve communication, increase a sense of empathy and understanding for one another, and build greater intimacy and respect. Sometimes a couple is dealing with a very specific crisis, or they may be deciding whether to stay together. At other times they may be looking to increase their satisfaction in the relationship. All of these are common experiences among couples seeking therapy.
Couples therapy typically begins with the therapist asking questions about the history of the relationship, as well as about each partner’s background as it relates to the presenting issue. The therapist assists the couple in identifying the goals for treatment and establishes a treatment plan with which both partners agree. Over the course of therapy, the therapist will help the couple identify relational patterns that may be contributing to the problem and help them build resources for navigating interactions in a healthier and more productive fashion. Although the focus of couples therapy is on the couple, there are times when individual psychological issues of one or both partners need to be addressed, and the therapist may recommend individual therapy in addition to couples work.
For therapy to be successful, it is essential that the therapist remain objective and create a safe space for both partners to share their perspective and experience. Couples therapists may use a variety of therapy techniques, the most common of which are Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT), Gottman Method Couples Therapy, and Internal Family Systems (IFS). Couples therapy is generally short term in nature. Most therapists encourage weekly meetings for a period of two to four months.