What Should I Know About Psychotherapy for Couples?

Psychotherapy for Couples

"Each step is the place to learn." 
--Japanese saying


The committed or marriage relationship is easy to romanticize. Hopes and expectations for it are often very high, and disappointment in one's self or partner is common. Partner relationships are very complex. Each person brings to the relationship the experiences, feelings and assumptions of the past. Thus the partner relationship can disappoint and hurt deeply-as well as delight, heal, and serve as a context for growth.


Working with a psychotherapist who has training and experience in doing therapy with couples can be highly productive. It allows the members of the couple to gain perspective on their struggles, for example, with intimacy or with power. It allows them to make helpful distinctions between issues that are part of the inner struggles of one of them and issues that have originated in the relationship. The personal histories of both partners as well as the history of the relationship itself are important in couples therapy. For example, there might be unrecognized misunderstandings that arise out of the uniting of two different family groups through marriage. Even the daily complexities of children, maintaining careers, and going through life crises can contain struggles that become difficult for the couple.

If a couple is to resolve conflicts productively, and also work out the developmental issues that normally emerge in people's lives, both members of the couple must feel safe enough with each other to do the work. The relational safety required may have diminished over time or through unresolved difficulties. Psychotherapy allows safety to be reestablished, and permits the growth and development of the couple's relationship to proceed.

One or both members of a couple might have concerns about couples therapy that could delay their decision to seek help. There may be fear that the therapist will be judgmental or will take sides. There may be fear that the therapy will separate the partners rather than bring them closer together. One partner might fear that something could be uncovered during the work that would frighten the other partner away. Shame or guilt about appearing to have "marital problems" is also common, and seeking expert help can be experienced as a social stigma.

It is important to understand that seeking help is a sign of maturity rather than insecurity. Indeed, courageously reaching out for help is a signal of hope, an indication to both partners that they are capable of being open to themselves and to one another. It re-establishes a foundation for moving toward greater trust and satisfaction and good decisions about the relationship.


 Mental health is not just the absence of "symptoms" it is full, flexible and creative human functioning.

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