Everything you need to know about: COUPLES THERAPY
It’s no secret that Millennials/GenZers like, LOVE, therapy. From viral therapy memes to dating app bios asking you only swipe right if you’re currently in session, young folks are normalizing mental health care more than ever. But when it comes to couples therapy, there still seems to be a lot of stigma around asking for help. And it turns out people of all ages have a lot of questions about what actually goes on in couples therapy. The My Wellbeing team reached out on instagram and asked you for all your burning questions about couples therapy. We got over 100 submissions and narrowed the list down to our favorite questions. We had our very own My Wellbeing therapists, who specialize in couples counseling, respond with their answers:
Why do people go into couples therapy?
Brielle Layden, who has her master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy, and who also specializes in LGBTQIA+ related stress, weighed in on our first few questions:
“Couples seek therapy together to address communication, arguing, trust issues, sexual issues, opening up and issues of non-monogamy, attachment injuries and infidelity, life transitions, grief and loss - to name a few!”
What are the most common misconceptions about couples therapy?
“I most often find that couples therapy is seen as a “last resort” in saving a relationship. While it is true that some couples decide to begin therapy to determine whether they should stay together, or work through separation, couples therapy is also for so much more! Some partners utilize the therapeutic space to strengthen their intimacy or connection. Other couples utilize therapy to discuss and prepare for milestones in their relationship (ie: living together, marriage, or pregnancy). Another common misconception is that couples therapy is primarily for older adults who have been together for some time. Most couples that I see in my practice are in their 20s or 30s and are not married. Couples therapy is not a one size fits all modality and there are no prerequisites needed to foster a stronger connection and healthier communication.” - BL
Is it just for couples having problems?
“Absolutely not! While issues or specific situations may prompt a couple to seek therapy, it can also be for partners who are looking for a space to maintain their connection. Even the healthiest, strongest relationships require hard work. Therapy provides a way for partners to set aside time every week to tune into one another and intentionally make the relationship a priority, even in the busiest of schedules.” - BL
Landis Bejar, a counselor on the My Wellbeing team, specializes in Wedding Related Stress and often uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a technique with her patients, also answered this question:
“External life problems can be a reason a couple may seek therapy - a loss, caring for a sick partner, child or other family member. These external problems can trigger extra stress and pressure on a couple and they may need support in navigating that.”
Is couples therapy covered by insurance?
“Couples therapy is not billable through most insurance plans. One partner can use their insurance to cover the cost of sessions and the therapist is still able to see all partners involved.”- BL
Can I do couples therapy with multiple partners (a poly relationship?)
“If all partners involved are interested in exploring the relationship, then count me in! At the end of the day, my emphasis is on the relationship that is being co-created by the partners, not on how many clients there are in the room. It is my hope that couples therapy will be viewed as a safe place for all relationships, including the ones that do not fit into the heterosexual, monogamous mold.” - BL
Landis Bejar suggests that “it’s advisable to seek out a therapist who is poly-affirming and has experience working with poly or non-traditional relationships. As with anything in poly relationships, clear boundaries, communication, goals and expectations would be essential in having a positive experience in therapy. “
As a couples therapist, do patients often ask you about your own relationships? If so, do you disclose personal information?
We got different answers from our specialists on this one, and we were kind of hoping for that! It’s important to see how different therapists have different experiences and approaches with their patients. Therapy is never one size fits all, and that’s why My Wellbeing exists as a matchmaking service and prioritizes finding the right therapist for you.
“It is natural for clients to be curious about their therapist, both in the professional and personal capacity, so I encourage my clients to ask questions. It is my intention to be as genuine and transparent with my clients as I can. I will disclose personal information if I feel as though it will promote or advance the work that is being done. At times I will ask my clients why knowing certain things about me is important to them and how my answers would influence their feelings on the therapeutic relationship.” - BL
One of our MWB therapists, David Horne, also jumped in on this question. David specializes in LGBTQIA+ related stress, as well as family and relationship issues.
“Not very often. When they do, I usually interpret it as a question of whether or not I can relate to what they are dealing with. If asked directly, I may share that I am in a long-term relationship with a same sex partner. The important thing for me to disclose is that I understand and appreciate how complicated being in a relationship can be, and that I am eager to support their work on improving theirs.”
“I actually do not get this question very often. I don’t usually disclose much personal information; I do regularly wear a wedding band which many therapists would point out is is a type of self-disclosure. Sometimes I may normalize what a couple is going through by validating that I can relate.” -LB
How do you find a couples therapist that is affirming for LGBTQIA+ couples?
“Oftentimes, therapists will indicate if they work with LGBTQIA+ couples on their websites or relevant platforms. If it is unclear, I would encourage you to ask for a phone consultation with a potential therapist. Phone consultations are a great way to learn more about the therapist’s approach, treatment modalities, and experience working with certain groups or communities.” - BL
David Horne suggests:
“Ask the therapist directly, “do you have experience working with non-heteronormative couples? Are you affirming of our relationships?’ If the answer leaves you questioning that, you may want to consider finding a different therapist.”
Landis Bejar added: “If you feel unsafe or invalidated by something that is said, you should verbalize it. If a micro or macro aggression occurs that you do not feel comfortable with continuing, or verbalizing your discomfort, you should not continue work with that therapist.”
Is it possible to have progress in couples therapy without individual therapy?
“Yes! Most of the couples I see now do not see individual therapists. In my practice, I explore who each partner is outside of the relationship, and who they were before. This will include discussions around their respective upbringing, culture, values, interests and needs. In my opinion, it is necessary for each partner to understand how their areas of similarity as well as their differences are influencing their relationship. Oftentimes, hearing the other partner’s story and experiences provides a powerful element of empathy. So, while the emphasis remains on the relationship, I aim to truly understand how their individuality is influencing and impacting the ways in which they relate to one another.” - BL
“It is definitely possible. It is not always possible to be in both at the same time for both partners; however, couples therapy is almost always enhanced when couples are committing to their own individual growth in therapy as well.” - LB
How do you start talking to your partner about couples therapy? It seems like it is only for partnerships that are failing. I feel like bringing up couple therapy could seem like a death sentence for my relationship!
“It can feel risky to admit that you would like to work on your relationship! And I agree that in our society, we usually hear about couples going to therapy because the relationship is really on the rocks. Let your partner know that you are thinking about ways to support yourselves in exploring your relationship, what’s working, what isn’t, what needs are being met, maybe what is confusing or frustrating, or what you are afraid of talking about. The important thing is to let them know that you are considering therapy as a way to strengthen your relationship and to increase your (plural) sense of agency, aliveness and fulfillment in that relationship. If things aren’t too dire, and you just want to be better together, I would think about it in terms of support for your growth together. It can be kind of exciting to focus on each other with someone there who can facilitate communication and help address areas that neither of you may see on your own. One of the things nobody talks about with regard to couples therapy is the sense of increased appreciation that often comes out of working on your relationship. Appreciation for the relationship itself, as well as for you and your partner in that context.”-DH
“People ask me this question a lot. I think it can be helpful to note a personal experience that you know of that makes it feel accessible. Referencing a friend or couple who you know have had a positive experience can make it feel less isolating and stigmatized. You can also use a communication skill called an “I-Message” where you state how you’re feeling in the relationship now, and how it would make you feel if your partner came to therapy with you, such as: “Right now, I’m feeling disconnected from you. It would make me feel reassured and comforted if you would be open to trying therapy together to help work on [some of the issues that we have been dealing with lately].” - LB
Is it normal for a therapist to “take a side”?
“Hopefully not! My belief is that the therapist’s role is to facilitate exploration of what is going on for each of the people in the relationship, and communication between the partners about that information. Your therapist may be challenging some of what comes up in session – but not imposing their own evaluation/agenda on who is right or wrong. If you are in couples therapy, and one or both of you think that the therapist has taken someone’s side, address it! It could provide some useful information to what is happening between the three of you.” - DH
Do most couples end up arguing in therapy and then not be able to leave it at the door?
“Not in my experience. Hopefully, through therapy, they’ve picked up new ways to communicate, so even if the conversation continues outside of the office, it’s more talking to each other and less arguing. Many couples compartmentalize their conflict, diving deep in session and then arguing less outside of the office. However, if incessant arguing is the norm in the relationship, that is going to happen regardless of whether the session is over or not.” - DH
Landis Bejar had a different response to this question -
“This is certainly a common experience in therapy. There is a similar occurrence in individual therapy. I call it “not being able to wrap up things neatly in a bow.” Unfortunately, some arguments are too entrenched or too important to completely resolve in the session time. Part of any therapy is developing tools and skills to tolerate discomfort and this is just another example of that. The therapist helps the clients to be able to pause the conversation and honor the depth of the discussion by pausing until they are in a good place to discuss it again. Sometimes we might offer an earlier session than a whole week if it feels necessary.”
How indicative is sex in determining the health of a relationship?
“Sex is one of many potential components of a rewarding relationship. Being open about our sexual needs, feelings and experiences can be really scary. It requires a lot of trust – in both our partners and our therapist. But lack of sex can be an indicator that something isn’t working in the relationship – usually communication or sense of safety in being intimate or vulnerable. On the other hand, some relationships can be very fulfilling for both partners with very little actual physical sex. I guess my answer to the question is that sex can be an important, but by no means the only or most important, gauge of the health of a relationship.” - DH
“In my view, sex is a very important part of the whole relationship, but just like anything else it is a part and not all of it. What matters is how the couples sex life is impacting each partner.”-LB
How do we know if someone is a helpful therapist in this space?
“If, after a couple of sessions, you find that you are communicating in a better way with your partner; if you are more interested or more hopeful in or about your relationship; if you feel more connected to yourself or your partner; if you feel like something has or may shift in your relationship.” - DH
Is it chill to go to a partner’s solo therapist for a couples session?
“Therapists vary widely in their views on this and I think we all fall on some sort of spectrum. I have been known to invite a partner into an individual session or two under the premise that it is not couples therapy, just an opportunity for a partner [e.g. very important person in the individual client’s life] to support them with something they are feeling stuck with. Sometimes that is a relationship issue, they are wanting to communicate about; most times they are first identifying their role in the struggle and their needs, and how they would like to work on the issue together. If the couple seems to benefit from the dynamic and wants to work on other issues together, I then refer them out to have their own therapist who only works with them as a couple.” - LB
What if my partner isn’t honest in couples therapy?
“Honesty is an essential component of therapy, both for couples and individuals. It is one of the tasks of the therapist to create an environment where couples feel safe to be honest; however, if this cannot be achieved in a reasonable amount of time, this could be an indication that the couple is not ready for therapy.” - LB
I don’t want to say some of my hurtful thoughts to my partner. Can I meet with the therapist alone?
“Solo sessions in couples therapy can be very effective for formulating ways to communicate thoughts and feelings in a productive and not unnecessarily harmful way. They can also be helpful in gathering extensive information about personal history that is outside the scope of the couples session, but still relevant for the therapist to know. Couples therapists usually have policies about the intentionality behind scheduling these sessions – e.g. they are scheduled with the consent of all three parties, the general goals are discussed beforehand, and the therapist cannot be responsible for holding any “secrets” between partners, as it is not in the best interest of the “client,” which in couples therapy, is the couple.” - LB
What is the success rate of couples therapy?
“Highly dependent on the therapist, the couple, the goals, the commitment level, and how we define success – just to illustrate that, it might surprise some readers to learn that some couples, for instance, feel successful if they are able to break up and remain friends!” - LB
We hope this article was helpful for y’all to read, and answered some of your own questions on couples therapy. Whether you’re seeking therapy on your own or as a couple, My Wellbeing wants you to know that you deserve the support you need to feel grounded, safe, and present in your life. Couples therapy can be a great way to gather necessary tools to support your individual partnership, and there’s absolutely no shame in asking for help!
A huge thank you to our My Wellbeing practitioners for their thoughtful answers: Brielle Layden, David Horne, and Landis Bejar. Interested in contacting one of these therapists? Simply click their name to check out their MWB profile!
This is the first of our “Everything You Need To Know” series! If you’d like to submit your burning questions, follow us on @findmywellbeing and be on the look-out for our Q+A series in our stories. You can also DM us with article ideas!
About the author: Haley Jakobson is a writer of plays, poetry, and creative non-fiction. In her writing Haley explores mental health and wellness, sex and trauma, queerness, and bodies. When she isn’t scribbling on the subway, Haley acts as the Artistic Director and co-founder of Brunch Theatre Company, an inclusive platform for emerging theatre artists to join the conversation. A poet in the millennial era, Haley reaches an audience of 10k+ readers on her instagram page. Haley lives in Brooklyn and is a gemini.