This Is When It’s Time To Do Couples Therapy, According To Experts (2023)

You’re dating someone, partnered up, or married and everything seems to be going well … except you keep having some recurring arguments. Maybe they’re no big deal, you think, but they’re frequent enough to make you question the relationship. This also raises another question: When is it time to do couples therapy? Is it the answer to the problem?

“Couples seek therapy for a range of reasons,” Robert Casares, PhD, an assistant professor in the Master’s in Counseling online program at Wake Forest University, tells TZR in an email. “Some report feeling stuck and are tired of arguing about the same unresolved issues. Or a couple with young children may want to set aside time to discuss the importance of regular date nights or to talk about more than day-to-day logistics. Many couples want to broach topics that have been avoided or ignored for far too long.” He says that with each of these issues, it may feel too challenging or scary for a couple to discuss them on their own, so they commonly go to therapy with the hope of addressing these topics in an honest and constructive manner.

But every couple has disagreements now and then, so is going to couples therapy really necessary? Casares says you can first try to communicate candidly about a perceived problem by acknowledging relational concerns or expressing unmet needs. “Sometimes in the business of life, crucial things are overlooked or go unsaid,” he says. “Talking about emotions, areas for growth, and current struggles invites openness and may allow a couple to work through challenges before they get out of hand. However, if this process feels overwhelming or a couple is uncertain about how to initiate these conversations, a therapist can offer support and expertise.” Following, Casares and other therapists weigh in on when it’s time to try couples therapy, from signs to look for to what you can get out of it — and more.

(Video) What We Might Learn in Couples Therapy

Signs To Seek Couples Therapy

Jason Polk, couples therapist and founder of Colorado Relationship Recovery, says that a good time to consider couples therapy is when there’s a consistent negative pattern of interaction between the two partners that leaves one or both feeling disconnected, confused, angry, and/or feeling that they can’t live up to their partner’s expectations no matter what they do. “It would be a very good time to go to couples therapy if such patterns of interaction are starting to create feelings of hopelessness,” he tells TZR in an email. “When one or both partners feel hopeless, it leads to withdrawal — and that’s the worst place to be for the relationship.”

Adrienne Alden, licensed marriage and family therapist at Relationship Restoration, agrees. “Therapy is helpful for couples when they are stuck in the pattern of listening to defend instead of listening to understand,” she tells TZR in an email. “If one or more members of a relationship feel unheard or too upset to hear, then it's time to seek therapy to help regulate and mediate.” Furthermore, she says psychologists and researchers (with huge empirical data about relationships) John and Julie Gottman state that the following four things lead to relationship problems: Defensiveness, Criticism, Contempt, and Stonewalling.

Keischa Pruden, therapist and founder of Pruden Counseling Concepts, tells TZR in an email that there are additional signs, too, that a couple may need to seek couples counseling, such as decreased intimacy (both physical and emotional); if there are incidents of abuse (emotional, physical, sexual, social, financial, spiritual, etc.); an increase in arguments/misunderstandings or sudden difficulty communicating feelings to each other; or if there is an undercurrent of negative energy following an event in the relationship.

(Video) An In-Depth Look at Couples Therapy - Ask the Experts, presented by SimplePractice

And there are also significant life-altering moments wherein couples therapy can be helpful to navigate the relationship, says Kresence Campbell, LPC, psychotherapist and founder of Holly Street Counseling. “Signs a couple should attend therapy include: preparing for marriage; when one partner (or both) are preparing for a major life change or have experienced one; a partner has cheated; talks of divorce or marriage; when boundaries are continually violated; and feeling hopeless,” she tells TZR in an email.

Casares adds that a common misconception about therapy is that a couple must have a major issue to resolve before attending. But that is not necessarily the case. “Whether dating or married, couples can take a proactive approach to therapy to emphasize their strengths, reinforce, and sustain the positive aspects of their relationship, or work toward identifying and reaching their future goals,” he says.

Andrea Wachter, psychotherapist, author, and Insight Timer teacher, agrees, saying that couples also don’t have to wait till things get really bad to get help. “Just like we (hopefully) don’t wait till our cars are broken down to take them into the mechanic, regular tune-ups can help people, too,” she tells TZR in an email.

What Happens In Couples Therapy?

So you and your partner decide to go to couples therapy. Then what? “The main benefit of couples therapy is having a neutral party to help a couple work through their issues,” says Pruden. “A therapist is not personally attached to the couple — their outlook/perspective is purely clinical and neutral.” Plus, the therapist can provide the couple with another perspective regarding their issues that they may not have considered before. “When you’re in an emotional situation, it can be difficult to have a different perspective other than your own,” she notes. “A therapist offers different ways of looking at conflict and conflict resolution.”

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Polk echoes Pruden’s sentiment, adding that a skilled couple’s therapist has a framework for a healthy relationship and believes in that framework. “They will first identify the negative patterns a couple engages in and will provide a roadmap on how to get out of the patterns,” he explains. “Ultimately, it’s up to each partner to do the work and to take care of their part in the relationship.” But what if you’re into the idea but you literally had to drag your significant other to the session? “A skilled couple’s therapist will help the partner who doesn’t ‘believe’ in therapy identify their motivation, whether to avoid pain (divorce, if that’s on the table) or gain pleasure (happier partner, and able to provide an example of a healthy relationship for the kids), and they will position themselves as the bridge to get to where they would like to go.”

Benefits Of Couples Therapy

Sure, you go to couples therapy to address the problems you and your partner are having. But are there other benefits, as well? “A therapist can serve as a translator — couples therapists study relationships for a living,” says Alden. “They can put complex concepts into words that a partner might not be able to and can help interrupt patterns in the moment.” Casares adds that couples therapy offers a range of benefits that commonly go beyond the initial issue that brought a couple to therapy. “The opportunity to share deep emotions, broach painful subjects, or work through disagreements in a supportive environment can generate cathartic experiences that hold the potential to strengthen emotional bonds, heal past hurts, or reignite romance,” he says. “The skills that are gained from therapy are practiced between sessions and eventually become positive habits that extend beyond the duration of therapy.”

Polk agrees, saying that at the very least, you can learn new relationship skills and tools. “We are not taught these growing up — especially if your parents didn’t model a healthy relationship — so any chance to learn and apply them is great, even if the couple doesn’t end up staying together in the long run.” Campbell says it can also provide the couple with a safe space to be heard and the therapist can assist with making points clear. “It can help bring to light and make clear the emotions and feelings that are hidden behind actions, as well as help couples make hard choices regarding their future and ways to move forward,” she adds. “Just starting it is the first step.”

(Video) When is it time to get a divorce? Couples Therapy and Relationship Expert Dr. D Ivan Young

Does Couples Therapy Always Work?

Although couples therapy can strengthen — and even save — your relationship, that’s not always the case. “Couples therapy is effective when the relationship has a degree of safety where couples are able to be vulnerable — or are at least open to being taught how to be vulnerable,” explains Polk. “But couples therapy doesn’t work out if one or both partners are already checked out and not open to letting their partner back in. Often, a partner may go to therapy because they said they would when their heart is not in it. If that is the case, the therapy may facilitate the breakup.”

Campbell, seconds this, noting, “These couples have realized that their relationship was simply trauma bonding and/or they were going in different paths that no longer aligned,” she says. “They may both agree amicably to split or realize that they must do their own work before coming back to the relationship.” She adds that when seeking couples therapy, the couple must have a clear understanding of what they would like the resolution to be after therapy. “Understand why and what motivates you to go to therapy for the relationship.”

Alden adds that even though couples therapy might not always lead to a better relationship with the people that initially attended, sometimes it helps an individual get in touch with themselves and their goals and needs. “That might not always mean keeping the relationship,” she says. “Big-picture, if couples therapy leads to insight, a breakup and a person living more in line with their authentic selves, I would still consider that a success.” She says the main thing she sees that keeps couples stuck or unable to grow is refusal to accept responsibility. “Relationship trouble is cocreated,” she says. “If one or both members of a relationship are unwilling to ask themselves, ‘What is my part in this?’ and apologize non-defensively, it's going to be hard to heal.”

Finally, most couples will likely prefer the structure and task-oriented nature of most couples therapy, Frank Thewes, LCSW, a private practice therapist based in Princeton, NJ and founder of Path Forward Therapy, tells TZR in an email. “Yet it is important for anyone to remember that couples therapy, like all therapy, takes real work to see progress,” he says. “You can’t just rely on what happens for the hour with the therapist. You have to take away action items and concepts and turn them into behavior changes to make couples therapy work.”

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What is Gottman's theory? ›

The goals of Gottman Method Couples Therapy are to disarm conflicting verbal communication; increase intimacy, respect, and affection; remove barriers that create a feeling of stagnancy; and create a heightened sense of empathy and understanding within the context of the relationship.

Why couples therapy is a good idea? ›

In couples counselling, you gain new perspectives about each other and the way you relate, and you also learn new ways of being together. Couples counselling includes “skills work” to help you actually do something different, as well as helping you explore your feelings and thoughts with your partner.

How often should couples have therapy? ›

Through the course of the sessions, the therapist will help the couple apply new communication patterns and approaches to problem solving. The therapist and the couple usually meet every two or three weeks, but it is also possible to meet more often depending on the severity of the case.

What is the most common problem addressed in couples therapy? ›

Most Common Issues in Couples Therapy
  • Infidelity. ...
  • Divorce / Separation. ...
  • Communication. ...
  • Frequent conflict. ...
  • Falling out of love / Growing apart. ...
  • Major life adjustments. ...
  • Financial difficulties. ...
  • Substance abuse.

What is Stonewalling in marriage? ›

Stonewalling, one of the Four Horsemen, is Dr. John Gottman's term for one or both partners shutting down when feeling overwhelmed during conflict. Rather than confronting the issue, someone who is stonewalling will be unresponsive, making evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, or acting busy.

What are the 4 Horsemen Gottman? ›

The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. Being able to identify the Four Horsemen in your conflict discussions is a necessary first step to eliminating them and replacing them with healthy, productive communication patterns.

Should we break up or go to couples therapy? ›

Happy couples can (and should!) go to therapy.

You don't need to wait until you're about to break up. It's certainly scary to ask your partner to go to therapy with you when things are basically status quo, since we tend to think of couples therapy as a last-ditch effort.

How long should couples therapy last? ›

Marriage counseling typically lasts six months or less, and some mental health professionals say that the longer counseling goes on, the less effective it is.

What percentage of couples stay together after therapy? ›

The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists reports an overall success rate of 98%. The success of couples therapy and other factors contributes to a decreasing divorce rate in the United States.

Is couples therapy worth the money? ›

Fortunately, empirically-based couples therapy has demonstrated that couples therapy can create a positive change for 70% of couples. And these changes actually last. However, couples often do not seek research-based solutions to improve their relationship.

Can couples do therapy on their own? ›

Leviton, MA, LMFT: Many therapists ask to see each partner separately at some point early in the treatment, perhaps even at the first session. Some make it a rule, while others decide on a case-by-case basis. There are even therapists who treat the couple by seeing each party separately for a period of time.

Can you fix a broken marriage? ›

Restoring a broken marriage isn't easy, but it's not impossible. Through careful steps and understanding why marriages end up broken, you would be able to start working on your relationship before it's too late.

What type of therapy is best for married couples? ›

Couples therapy techniques
  1. Reflective listening. ...
  2. Emotionally focused therapy. ...
  3. Narrative therapy. ...
  4. Gottman Method. ...
  5. Imago relationship therapy. ...
  6. Solution-focused therapy.

Can couples therapy make things worse if yes why? ›

It depends on what you mean by worse. Yes, couples therapy can lead to separation and divorce, or worse, domestic abuse if that is what is happening already. So, couples' therapists are to be very professional, careful, and gentle in how to approach couples' issues.

What not to say in couples counseling? ›

3 things you should never tell your marriage counselor
  • "Don't tell my husband/wife this, but ..." Sorry, as marriage counselors we're not supposed to take sides and we can't keep important secrets from your partner. ...
  • 2. " No, I think you're wrong" ...
  • 3. " That's it; I want a divorce"
1 Feb 2016

What is gaslighting in a marriage? ›

The term gaslighting became popular in the 1960s. It is used to describe the manipulation of another person's perception of reality. Gaslighting is a common tool used by narcissistic and abusive spouses to control their partners. When done correctly, gaslighting can make a spouse doubt their own senses and memory.

What is gaslighting in a relationship? ›

What is gaslighting in a relationship? It's a form of psychological manipulation in which one person makes the other partner doubt his or her perceptions, experiences, memories, or understanding of events that happened.

What is emotional abandonment in marriage? ›

Emotional abandonment in marriage refers to feelings of neglect, being left out, and not being heard in a marriage. It is when one partner is so self-absorbed that they cannot see the troubles, tears or problems their spouse is going through.

What are 4 major predictors of divorce? ›

The Four Horsemen are four communication habits that increase the likelihood of divorce, according to research by psychologist and renowned marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph. D. Those four behaviors are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt.

What is the number one predictor of divorce? ›

John Gottman of the University of Washington, a foremost expert on couple studies, concluded after over twenty years of research that the single, best predictor of divorce is when one or both partners show contempt in the relationship.

How do you know your marriage is over? ›

"If you're no longer spending any time together, if one or both partners is spending all their time at work, with friends, online — and if feels like a relief not to be with each other — it's a sign that you've already disengaged from the marriage." You don't support or listen to each other.

Can couples therapy fix toxic relationships? ›

Yes! Couples can fix a toxic relationship. A good couples therapist knows that human relationships are difficult. They also know that we are all just doing our best being humans and that we often do things we regret.

Can couples therapy help a toxic relationship? ›

Yes! In therapy, distant, fighting couples can fix an unhealthy, toxic relationship. Also, a good couples therapist knows that human relationships are challenging, intense, intense, and difficult. The holistic couples therapists at Wisdom Within Counseling also know that couples do things they regret.

When to finally call it quits in a relationship? ›

If there is no more active investment in your relationship, it could be a sign that one or both of you have already subconsciously made the decision to call it quits. Interviewing divorce lawyers or speaking to real estate agents to “keep your options open” likely means that you don't really want your options open.

How much does couple therapy cost? ›

Our fee for personal therapy with a Senior Consultant Therapist is £140 per session. Our fee for couples therapy is £130 from the first appointment with a Consultant Therapist. Couples therapy with a Senior Consultant Therapist will be charged at £160 per session.

How do you restart a marriage? ›

10 ways to reset your marriage
  1. Give your partner grace. ...
  2. Don't assume you know what is going on with your partner. ...
  3. Take time to affirm with your partner. ...
  4. Get to know your partner on a deeper level. ...
  5. Make a list of your disagreements. ...
  6. Work on yourself. ...
  7. Stop criticizing and express concerns effectively.
5 Mar 2021

Can therapy save a broken marriage? ›

Many couples report that therapy saved their relationship when they were on the brink of separation or even divorce. Couples therapy is hard work and requires dedication from both partners.

Can therapy hurt your marriage? ›

Suffice it now to summarize the consistent conclusion in these research studies: Individual therapy for a married person that does not include a solid couple therapy treatment component risks creating negative responses such as anger, depression, anxiety, or addictions in the spouse and/or unraveling of the marriage.

Is couples therapy the end of a relationship? ›

But this isn't how reality works for most people. For most people, couples therapy is a way to strengthen a relationship, not end it.

Is individual therapy better than couples therapy? ›

Some people benefit from receiving individual counseling before going through couples counseling. Individual sessions with a therapist allow them to work on specific issues that might hold them back from making progress in couples therapy, such as anxiety. A person may know for sure that they have personal issues.

Is couples therapy real or scripted? ›

Far from reality-show caricatures, this is true documentary filmmaking that brings viewers into the authentic and visceral experience of weekly therapy with four couples.

What can I do instead of couples therapy? ›

6 Alternatives To Couples Therapy That Can Save Your Marriage
  • ​Put your marriage first. Désirée Fawn/Unsplash. ...
  • ​Don't forget date nights. Benjamin Faust/Unsplash. ...
  • Read a relationship book together. ...
  • ​Set aside the time to really talk. ...
  • Acknowledge the good (instead of harping on the bad). ...
  • ​Take a vacation together.
21 Mar 2017

How can I fix my relationship without therapy? ›

Decide on a plan that will address each of the identified trouble areas
  1. Read a well-respected relationship book together. ...
  2. Complete a relationship course together.
  3. Go on a weekend marriage retreat.
  4. Meet with a mentor couple.
  5. Go on a weekly date.
  6. Learn a new skill together.
5 Aug 2021

Can you save your marriage without counseling? ›

' yes, it can be saved. Both of you have to start working towards repairing a marriage. Counseling helps, but therapies often fail to bring the desired result for most marriages. There are alternate ways to save a marriage without the help of a marriage counselor or therapist.

What are hardest years of marriage? ›

While there are countless divorce studies with conflicting statistics, the data points to two periods during a marriage when divorces are most common: years 1 – 2 and years 5 – 8. Of those two high-risk periods, there are two years in particular that stand out as the most common years for divorce — years 7 and 8.

Can people fall back in love? ›

Yes. You can fall back in love but it almost always requires learning new ways to love and communicate with each other. Usually there are also a few underlying problems that must be addressed as well in order for the love to be able to come back."

Does space help a broken relationship? ›

Taking time apart can allow you both to think about the issues in your relationship, cool off, learn new coping strategies, and come back together with a different lens or perspective that can be difficult to have when you're together and actively fighting through your issues.

Which type of therapy is most successful? ›

In summary, because of its clear research support, CBT dominates the international guidelines for psychosocial treatments, making it a first-line treatment for many disorders, as noted by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence's guidelines2 and American Psychological Association.

Should a husband and wife see the same therapist? ›

A husband and wife should attend the same therapist in order to make the same progress together and to be cured in the same way. Usually, if only one partner undergoes therapy, it will be good only for them as an individual.

Is the Gottman Method worth it? ›

The findings found that the Gottman marriage counseling improved marital relationships by helping couples “develop problem-solving skills. These skills make couples more flexible in their relationships and help them achieve a high degree of emotional stability and a peaceful life”.

Can therapy make a person worse? ›

It is actually normal to occasionally feel bad or worse after therapy, especially during the beginning of your work with a therapist. It can be a sign of progress. As counterintuitive as it may sound, feeling bad during therapy can be good.

What do therapists say about toxic relationships? ›

“As a result, toxic partners are always batting somebody over the head by blaming them, by telling them what they did wrong, by being critical all the time.” In a nutshell, toxic relationships are filled with manipulation, coercion, and criticism.

How do you know there's no hope for your marriage? ›

Your fights are never resolved.

You fight constantly. The same issues keep coming up over and over ... and over. You're basically living in a state of limbo. There's nothing wrong with disagreeing in a relationship; it's actually healthy to have different opinions and expectations in a relationship.

Should you tell your spouse what you talk about in therapy? ›

It can help promote closeness: Sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with your partner can be scary. However, being able to share your most vulnerable self with your partner and being accepted for who you are can promote a sense of trust, honesty, and closeness in the relationship.

What are Gottman's Seven Principles for Making marriage Work mark all that apply? ›

Timeless Tips: The 7 Research-Based Principles for Making Marriage Work
  • Enhance your love maps.
  • Nurture your fondness and admiration.
  • Turn toward each other instead of away.
  • Let your partner influence you.
  • Solve your solvable problems.
  • Overcome gridlock.
  • Create shared meaning.
  • Recap.

What is Gottman's emotional communication game? ›

In this game, partners take turns as sender and receiver. The sender chooses a particular question he or she wishes to send and asks the receiver the question out loud. The sender circles choice a, b, or c, the choice that best describes what she or he meant by the question.

What are the steps Gottman gives for resolving conflict? ›

Constructive conflict management begins with the development of six skills: Soften Startup, Accept Influence, Make Effective Repairs During Conflict, De-escalate, Psychological Soothing of Self and Partner, and Compromise.

What is the 5 1 rule? ›

According to relationship researcher John Gottman, the magic ratio is 5 to 1. What does this mean? This means that for every one negative feeling or interaction between partners, there must be five positive feelings or interactions.

Is Gottman Method biblical? ›

The Gottman Method is based on research, not on a particular philosophical or religious ideology. Similarly, passages from the Bible are not intended to be a scientific treatise on relationships, but reflect how God designed humankind to live in peace and harmony with each other and in our intimate relationships.

How long does it take to fix a marriage give the Gottmans? ›

Give the Gottmans 7 Days. The renowned love researchers have been happily wed for decades.

Can the Gottman Method save a marriage? ›

It can! The NEW Gottman Relationship Adviser takes the guesswork out of improving your relationship. Measure your relationship health with a research-based self-assessment, then receive a tailored digital relationship plan proven to heal and strengthen your connection.

What are the 8 Gottman dates? ›

John and Julie Gottman have conducted 40 years of breakthrough research with thousands of couples.
Here are the eight conversation-based dates for a lifetime of love:
  • Trust and Commitment. ...
  • Conflict. ...
  • Sex and Intimacy. ...
  • Work and Money. ...
  • Family. ...
  • Fun and Adventure. ...
  • Growth and Spirituality. ...
  • Dreams.

What is a Gottman love map? ›

In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman defines a “love map” as “that part of your brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner's life.” Having a detailed “love map” involves taking a genuine interest in your partner.

What are 3 tips to resolving conflict? ›

3 Tips to Improve Conflict Resolution Skills
  1. Practice active listening and communication skills.
  2. Stay calm and recognize the conflict.
  3. Maintain a positive attitude and practice managing your emotions.
28 Nov 2017

How do you defuse conflict in a marriage? ›

Seven Habits for Healthy Conflict Resolution in Marriage
  1. Know yourself. ...
  2. Always give the benefit of the doubt. ...
  3. Distinguish between what can be overlooked and what needs to be addressed. ...
  4. Learn to see the bigger picture. ...
  5. Stick to one issue. ...
  6. Seek resolution promptly. ...
  7. Give grace, grace, and more grace.

What are the 5 methods of conflict resolution? ›

5 conflict resolution strategies
  • Accommodating. This method of conflict resolution, also known as smoothing, involves one party acquiescing, giving the opposing party exactly what it needs to resolve the problem. ...
  • Avoiding. ...
  • Compromising. ...
  • Collaborating. ...
  • Competing.


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