Couples Therapy



Couples therapy is a common form of relationship counseling used to resolve conflicts between couples that they have been unsuccessful in resolving themselves. Couples therapy as we know it did not originate until the 1950s, but it stems from marriage counseling, which first took place in the 1920s in Germany and the 1930s in the U.S. There was no one person who came up with couples therapy, but before the late 20th century it was typical for the role of a couples therapist to be fulfilled by friends of the couple, a family member, or a religious representative instead. The idea behind couples therapy is that problems in the relationship stem from a lack of communication and understanding.

Goals of Couples Therapy

The main goal of couples therapy is to bring the couple to a mutual understanding of each other as a means of finding out whether or not changes in the relationship need to be made, and making those changes happen. The best way for the therapist to accomplish this is to watch and listen to the couple interact before his or her eyes. This way, misunderstandings can be addressed and the communication as a whole can be perfected. Once the understandings are met, it is up to the therapist to suggest particular changes that will benefit the relationship.

When is Couples Therapy Used?

Since every relationship is different, there is a large array of issues that couples therapy can resolve. The more common issues tend to be constant arguments, arguments about money or children, a lack of communication, and other needs failing to be met. Obviously these issues can get very specific, and sometimes couples therapy is not considered until a certain catastrophic event takes place in the couples lives. Some examples of these include a sudden decrease in affection, an affair taking place, a substance abuse problem, the recent death of someone close, a traumatic event taking place, or a sudden change in financial situation. Other times, couples might seek therapy because of something that has built up over time, such as a buildup of disappointment, resentment, jealousy, or frustration. Virtually any couple could face these problems at any moment, but those who cannot resolve them for any miscellaneous reason should seek couples therapy for help, assuming they want to continue their relationship.

How Couples Therapy Works

In the way this therapy is experienced, the couple shares a room with the therapist, who is seen as a third party to the situation. This way the couple can communicate their thoughts with each other as this “third party” pinpoints the issues. The first day of therapy generally involves an assessment from the therapist that asks the couple some personal questions about their personal histories as well as the relationship history and how they view each other. By doing this, the therapist gains a better, more personal understanding of the couple in order to view their problems from their perspectives and backgrounds. At the end of the assessment, the therapist usually gives their input of the couple’s situation, telling the couple whether or not they recommend couples therapy for their problems and giving them an idea of what type of therapy would be best for their needs. The couple can then accept or reject the therapist’s suggestions.

After the regular therapy has begun, the therapist basically acts as a mediator between the couple, who continue sharing their thoughts and feelings on different situations. The therapist is there to clarify these thoughts between the two so that they can develop a mutual understanding. Whenever there is miscommunication or a misunderstanding between the couple, the therapist is there to point it out and strengthen the communication. The couple may even need coaching for their communication beforehand if the way they talk to each other is abusive or hurtful. There are many different ways a therapist can help a couple reach a better understanding.

It also helps for the therapist to discuss the relationship’s strong points as a means of not becoming too overwhelmed focusing on the negative aspects. 

Criticisms of Couples Therapy

Sometimes the therapy sessions themselves can be a little too chaotic, which usually happens when the therapist does not have a lot of structure and allows for the couple to argue with each other back and forth for most of the session. Other times the therapist may have a problem coming up with good changes for the relationship—since every couple is different, there is never going to be any one solution to a particular problem. Couples therapy is often critiqued by those who did not experience successful results with it but then again, having your relationship critiqued is not easy.


Counseling and therapy for couples. Young, Mark E.; Long, Lynn L. Belmont, CA, US: Thomson Brooks/Cole Publishing Co. (1998). xv 355 pp.

Emotion-focused couples therapy: The dynamics of emotion, love, and power. Greenberg, Leslie S.; Goldman, Rhonda N.

Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. (2008). x 405 pp. doi:10.1037/11750-000 

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy: Status and Challenges Johnson, Susan M.; Hunsley, John; Greenberg, Leslie; Schindler, Dwayne. Article first published online: 11 MAY 2006 DOI: 10.1093/clipsy.6.1.67

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