There’s a common misconception that therapy is the place all couples land once something “bad” happens. And while yes, it’s a great safe space to work on recurring stressors and new hurdles as they arise, it’s also a great space to strengthen a bond and learn new things about your partner during those stretches of calm.
We sat down with Frame therapist Zeahlot Lopez for a Q&A on wether there’s a “right” time to seek couples therapy, and what you can expect during a session once you do explore it.
Q: I've been married to my husband for five years. Nothing is necessarily wrong with our relationship, but I keep getting frustrated with him for little things. And I don't know why it's bothering me so much. Is this something we could work on in couples therapy?
Zeahlot: Absolutely. I love the idea of going to couples therapy when things are going well. Why? Because it’s preventative versus trying to fix something that's already on the rocks. So it's good to keep in mind that couples therapy is focused on taking care of the relationship, and the person.
Great examples of things that you could work on within couples therapy are:
Learning your love languages. You partner up with this amazing person and yet you might not even know what works for them love wise. How do they feel loved, seen, and heard?
Communication techniques. It's actually really interesting to note that the human hears very little in regards to the whole message. For example - you could be telling your husband “please take out the trash, my mom's coming over soon” and he doesn't hear it, or understand the way you interpret his innaction. In couples therapy you can actually work on that delivery and say, “Hey, listen, I appreciate you’re busy but my mom's coming over at 6:00 PM and I need the trash to be taken out.” Additionally you can learn to work on dialogue, and also respecting your partner and learning how they feel loved.
Q: How is going to couples therapy different from me going to individual therapy to talk about my problems with my husband?
Zeahlot: It’s very different. The dynamic is that when you go to individual therapy, you actually have a one-on-one “Team You” with the therapist serving as your cheerleader on the side, invested in your success.
In couples therapy, the therapist is actually the referee. So just like in sports, a referee is there to call it like it is and help you along the way during the game with boundaries and limits. In couples therapy you'll learn that each partner deserves the right to be heard and seen, and have their perspective taken into consideration. These learnings can play out in real time during sessions.
Q: Which specific issues are appropriate to discuss in couples therapy and which are best handled ourselves?
Zeahlot: This is a great question. It's kind of knowing what we can handle, and what's way beyond our abilities. I'll say that nothing is really off topic or unmanageable. So what you want to ask yourself is - why does the specific issue keep coming up? And what is it really about?
If you feel that it's something worthy to further connect on with your significant other and partner, definitely take it to therapy. There's nothing off topic. It's really your choice, it's your session.
Q: Does couples therapy always focus on keeping the couple together?
Zeahlot: No, not necessarily. For many therapists, many professionals that work with mental health, it's knowing what a couple needs in that moment.
It's important to understand that the client within the room is not necessarily viewed as partner one or partner two, but more so the relationship. So if the relationship no longer exists, if somebody has already been checked out for a while, there is no more relationship. There's no more “us”, there's you and them. So if that's the case, you really want to ask yourself, are we unconsciously uncoupling here? Or are we trying to make this work? Ultimately the decision is up to you, but you can give yourself the wonderful chance to actually explore it in therapy.
For additional resources and therapist-crafted tools, browse Frame's library of content focused on relationships.
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