Common Questions Couples Are Too Afraid To Ask About Therapy

link to article about questions couples are afraid to ask

Joe Borders, MFT

By Joe Borders, MFT

Therapist in Sacramento and Roseville

March 4th, 2020

SacWellness was recently featured in the local Style Magazine! I took part in a brief Q&A about SacWellness and also contributed to an article they published: Relationship Repair: 8 Questions About Couples Counseling. This is the 4th time I’ve written for Style Magazine. You can find my other 3 here:

As I have done in the past, the following is the full, unabridged article that I submitted to Style before they trimmed it to suit their needs.

Questions Couples Are Too Afraid To Ask About Therapy

How long will we have to be in therapy?

a couple with question marks drawn around themThat really depends. Most commonly couples therapy is done on a weekly basis and continues until the couple decides to stop for one reason or another. Depending on the situations that bring you to therapy that can be a month or a year or more. It all depends on the situation, but if therapy goes well, it often becomes something people choose to continue even after their original presenting problems get better.

Will the therapist take sides?

No! Couples therapists are trained to, and do their best to avoid taking sides in couples therapy. The only time a therapist should do anything resembling taking sides is in cases when abuse is occurring. In which case, it wouldn’t be to take a side per se, but to ensure their clients’ safety.

Can I go alone?

You can go to your own individual therapy and talk about your relationship there, but if your relationship is the primary issue you’re seeking help with, couples therapy is likely the best option. There are some couples therapists who prefer to meet with each person individually once in addition to couples sessions so they can get a better assessment of the relationship, but typically its best for you to go with your partner.

Should we talk about what was discussed in therapy outside of therapy?

You can and should talk with each other about these issues outside of therapy. Therapy works best as something you go to, get some ideas and feedback, and then go out into the world and try on your own. Without talking about these issues with your partner you can’t really practice new skills and grow outside of session. In this way couples therapy is kind of like having a personal trainer at the gym. You do it occasionally to get feedback on your form and make breakthroughs, but continue working on things on your own in between sessions.

Can therapy save my relationship?

Yes, if that’s what your goal is. But, its important to note that the primary purpose of couples therapy isn’t always to save a relationship. Sometimes people come to couples therapy because there is something making them unhappy in their relationship and they just want it to stop and to feel better. They just want the hurt to stop. Couples therapy helps people to talk about and examine these issues together, and sometimes in doing that, people decide that the best way to stop hurting would be to separate. I often tell people that at the very least couples therapy can help them get “un-stuck”.

How do we agree on which therapist to see?

This is an important one. In order for therapy to be effective you have to feel comfortable with your therapist. I usually suggest that you (or both of you) start by looking through a list of therapists and find a few who seem like they might be a good fit. A good place to start is, a therapist directory for the greater Sacramento area. After taking a look at what’s out there, come together, compare notes, and decide on someone you’d like to try meeting with. If it doesn’t feel right, try another one. All therapists are different and its important that you find a good fit.

Who can benefit from couples therapy?

Everyone, except in some cases where abuse is occurring. This can leave one person feeling exposed/ even more unsafe and in danger. In these cases its often advised that people seek out individual counseling first.

What are some ways or tips you can provide for one partner to suggest couples therapy to their partner?

I often encourage people to present it to their partner in as non-threatening a way as possible. Don’t say “You’re making my life a living hell and we have to go to therapy to stop this insanity.”

Do say “We’ve been going through a hard time recently, we both know it, and I’d like to check out couples therapy.” If you’re met with some resistance reassure them that they are not the problem, you’re going to work on the relationship, not them, and that you’d just like to try it out and see how it feels. People often respond well to framing it as something like “I’d like to better our relationship, let’s check out this option.” As opposed to “we’re broken and need to get fixed”.

When should a couple consider therapy?

Any time they’re feeling chronically disconnected or suffering together. In my experience, most couples issues come down to feeling disconnected and distant from each other. Most of us love our partners or we wouldn’t deal with their crap. It’s the disconnect that hurts and brings us to places of anger, fear, and resentment. I also add “suffering together” to this because sometimes couples are in a hard place not because of one another, but because they are going through a life difficulty together. In cases like this therapy can help them to overcome their obstacles and confront them as a team.

a hugging couple underneath a tree with heart leaves

What are some relationship warning signs that indicate you could benefit from couples therapy?

Feeling chronically disconnected, hurt, fearful, or angry with your partner.

But the really bad ones are known as “the four horsemen”: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Dr. John Gottman, the originator of these four horsemen argues that the consistent presence of any of them is a strong predictor of a relationship heading towards ending.

What should both partners in a relationship know before starting couples therapy?

All therapists have their own approach and policies, but in general:

-Many couples therapists hold a “no secrets policy” and will not hold secrets disclosed to them in the absence of your partner.

-In couples therapy the couple as a unit is usually seen as the client, not the individuals. To this effect the therapist works with the couple to achieve the goals they hold for the relationship. This also means that the therapist doesn’t take sides.

-Things can often get worse before they get better. Sometimes people hold on to things and don’t talk openly with their partner on a regular basis. In these cases things can come out in therapy that are surprising or are said in ways that might be hurtful. This is normal, and part of the process. One of the main goals of couples therapy is to help the couple to be able to openly talk about their difficulties and emotions with each other in a safe and holding way. Sometimes there is some baggage to unpack before you can get there.

How will we know if our therapist is a good fit?

I always advocate for trying out a therapist, seeing if they feel like a good fit, and moving on if they don’t. In couples therapy there are likely going to be times when you’re upset or unhappy with your therapist, but in general you should feel comfortable with them. I usually tell people that you should know within the first 3 sessions if it’s a good fit or not. If you feel horribly uncomfortable, judged, awkward, or like something just isn’t clicking, talk with them about it and consider moving on.

Is it ever too late for couple’s therapy

No. Sometimes it’s too late to repair a relationship so that the two people stay together, but its never too late for couples therapy to be helpful in some way. Even when people are divorcing, couples therapy can help them to figure out how they are going to do it and, in the best cases, do it as amicably as possible.

Can we recover from infidelity?

Yes! People often get caught up in the idea that infidelity means the end of a relationship. That is not always true. We have a cultural assumption that this is the ultimate deal breaker that nobody should tolerate. Affairs happen for many different reasons and they can mean many different things to different people. Only you, as an individual, and as a couple can decide if you can heal the relationship after an affair, but it does not have to mean the end. Not all affairs are pre-contemplated or the result of malice, and I have seen a good number of couples recover from them.

Is it ok to talk about sex in therapy?

Yes, and you should, especially if its an issue you’re having trouble with. If you are worried about being judged for sexual issues like kinks, try to find a therapist who identifies as “sex positive” this means that they’re pretty much supportive of any form of sexual expression between consenting adults.

Can therapy help if we’re unsure about staying together?

Yes. The goal of therapy is not always to help a couple stay together. Sometimes its to end a relationship in an amicable way and sometimes people come in without solid goals and just want to get un-stuck. If you’re unsure about staying together, couples therapy can help you talk about all of the issues contributing to this indecision and come to a conclusion together.

Can or will our therapist tell us whose right and wrong?

No. At the most a couples therapist might say something like “that must have hurt when he did that”, but never something like “wow, you’re totally right, he was a jerk for saying that.” This is important to know for both people in a couple. Some people think they are bringing their partner to therapy to receive backup against their partner while other people feel like they are being brought to therapy because they are in trouble and will have to answer for their transgressions. Neither of these are true.

About the Author

Joe Borders, MFTJoe Borders is a marriage and family therapist located in Roseville and Sacramento. He is primarily a sex positive gender therapist, but also specializes in working with couples, teens, addiction, and the LGBTQ community. Joe is also the owner and founder of SacWellness. You can find out more about him by visiting his sacwellness listing or by visiting his website: therapy and counseling in Roseville and Sacramento

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