When Couples Therapy May Not Be Right For You

When Couples Therapy May Not Be Right For You

Making the decision to come to couples therapy requires courage.  A willingness to put your hands up and say, “Ok, we need some outside support” is really challenging, and also a huge sign of strength and commitment to your relationship.  But in order for couples therapy to be effective, you and your relationship have to be “ready” for it.  There are a few situations where seeking additional support beforehand might be necessary, and will prepare you to make the most out of your time, money, effort, and energy spent in couples therapy.

Here are some questions to consider before booking in a couples therapy session:

Is there physical, sexual, or emotional violence/abuse in my relationship?

When there is abuse, especially violence (threatened or actual), in a relationship, most couples therapists will refer the partners to individual therapy first before treating the couple together.  This is so that partners can learn healthy tools to regulate emotions in ways that don’t involve controlling behaviours such as physical or sexual violence, financial abuse, or emotional manipulation.  The main reason for this is because couples therapy often requires tough conversations which can result in big emotions.  If the couples’ main way of coping with difficulty is through violence or abusive behaviours, couples therapy may actually place partners at greater risk for continued abuse if there are no other healthy coping strategies in place.  We want you to be able to come to couples therapy equipped with some strategies to manage the challenges of therapy safely.

If you’re unsure whether you are experiencing abuse in your relationship, and to find resources and contact numbers to get help, click here.

 Do I expect therapy to “fix” my partner, and am I unwilling to see my contributions to our relationship dynamic?

Couples therapy is about treating the relationship – looking at both partners’ behaviours and how issues result from your co-created dynamic.  For the most part, couples therapists remain neutral, they don’t align with one person or the other but instead are always looking at ways to support the relationship.  Couples therapists help each person feel heard and try to understand each partner’s perspective.  But, if your expectation is that your couples therapist will not ask you to self-reflect about your actions in the relationship, you might be disappointed.

 Is one of us unmotivated, only coming to therapy as a box-ticking exercise?

Therapy is most successful when people are willing to walk in the door on their own.  This isn’t to say that for many, therapy can feel daunting and you may feel hesitant about the process.  You may of course have doubts and fears about whether therapy will help or if it will feel awkward.  But as long as you’re both motivated to try out at least a few sessions wholeheartedly, couples therapy has a better chance of being effective. 

If there has been infidelity, is the affair still on-going?  Is there a lack of motivation to give up the outside relationship?

The journey back to trust after an infidelity is often a long and winding road.  One of the key ingredients to healing a relationship after infidelity is that the affair relationship must stop – both externally and internally.  If you or your partner had an affair, and there is still either a physical or emotional connection to the affair partner, or an ambivalence about re-committing to the primary relationship after an affair, couples therapy can be quite unsuccessful.

Do I or does my partner struggle with serious drug, alcohol, or other addictions?

Couples therapy is kind of like a two-person relay race.  Both partners need to be fit to run, free of strong vices that could weigh the team down.  When one person is struggling with an addiction, it’s best to help that partner get some individual training (i.e., individual counselling) first in order for the two of you to run at the same pace.  For information and resources on drug and alcohol counselling services in Victoria, click here; for gambling addiction, click here; for eating addiction, click here.  .

 Do I or does my partner have severe, unresolved trauma from our past?

Trauma can impair an individual’s functioning in a number of different ways.  It signals the brain’s alarm system and if left untreated, can keep individuals trapped in a fight-flight-freeze-submit stance.  This can impair our ability to sleep, concentrate, store and make new memories, dysregulate our mood, and impede activities of daily life.  In addition, trauma impacts relationships in a number of ways.  If one or both partners have severe, unresolved trauma, couples therapy can be very triggering and exacerbate trauma symptoms.  The most productive avenue is to seek individual support with a trauma informed therapist, heal trauma wounds, and return to couples therapy when there is a sense of control over trauma memories and experiences.

Did I or did my partner recently experience a traumatic or life-threatening event?

Healing from acute trauma often requires some amount of processing in order for you to gain a sense of understanding and meaning-making about the event.  Things like car accidents, near death experiences, fires, home invasions, natural disasters, death of a loved one… These plus a range of other recent traumatic events can trigger that fight-flight-freeze-submit response style, where your brain is constantly alerted to the presence of danger.  If you or your partner have experienced a recent traumatic event, it’s important to first seek support from an individual therapist to help you learn strategies to cope with the effects of the traumatic event before working through deeper relationship issues.  Click here for some resources for coping with traumatic events, and here for resources related to grief and loss.

Do either my partner or I experience active hallucinations or delusions?

Certain mental health conditions including psychotic disorders (such as Schizophrenia or Brief Psychotic Disorder and a few others) include symptoms where the individual experiences hallucinations (e.g., a sensory perception, such as a visual or a smell or a sound, that others cannot perceive), or delusions (e.g., beliefs that are not grounded in fact).  When these symptoms are occurring, they need to be managed first before any progress can be made in the context of couples therapy.  Typically, medication management with a psychiatrist and individual therapy is helpful.  If you or your partner are suffering from psychosis and need some support, click here for information and resources to help you get effective treatment.

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, it may be most effective to seek individual support for the issues above before committing to couples therapy.  In order to get the most out of your time, energy, money, and effort spent working on your mental and relational health, make sure you and your relationship are ready for couples therapy.

At Couples Therapy Melbourne, we work with both individuals and couples to find effective, long-term strategies to sustain health and wellbeing and to find a richness and meaning in life.  Contact us at 1300 784 184 or info@couplesmelbourne.com to book in a session today.