Can Couple’s Therapy Really Help?
By Gina Cipriano
Relationship dysfunction can be painful and result in a plethora of mental health problems in partner(s) such as depression, anxiety, and substance use (Beasley & Ager, 2019). Many people have apprehension about attending couples therapy. However, it is important to note that a therapist will not take sides in a couple’s session. Rather, they act as a sounding board for what patterns are emerging in a couple’s relationship. Ethically, a therapist will not keep “secrets” between partners in a relationship, as this would inadvertently cause the therapist to side with one person. The therapist views the “couple” as the client rather than one person in the relationship as the client.
Couples therapy can assist people in becoming aware of their attachment styles and assist them in moving towards a more secure attachment with their partner. Attachment styles come from a person’s experience with their caregivers. There are three types of insecure attachments including the following:
- If a person has a disorganized attachment, they most likely were abused or neglected. They learned that relationships are dysfunctional, and others cannot be trusted (Wong et al., 2020). This can result in someone continuing to perpetuate the cycle of abuse (Wong et al., 2020).
- Anxious resistant attachments result from environments that were unpredictable; a child did not know whether their caregiver would be emotionally available for them or not (Wong et al., 2020). As adults, this may result in them trying to control the relationship by clinging on to their partner (Wong et al., 2020).
- Avoidant attachment occurs when a caregiver was unresponsive to the needs of their child (Wong et al., 2020). As an adult, this person may fear closeness and pull away from a person during times of distress (Wong et al., 2020).
What Could Couples Therapy Sessions Look Like?
A form of couples therapy, called Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) has three stages that couples can expect.
- Stage One: At this stage, the therapist assists the partners in recognizing how their attachment styles are negatively influencing their relationship (i.e., a person who has an avoidant attachment pulls away from someone who has an anxious resistant attachment. However, the person who has an anxious resistant attachment tries to move towards them in arguments). The goal is to help the couple understand the underlying feelings that come when negative interactions occur, and they work to help the couple understand how they both play a role in allowing a negative cycle of interaction to continue (Beasley & Ager, 2019).
- Stage Two: At this stage, the couple discusses what can assist them in stopping the cycle (Beasley & Ager, 2019). For instance, for someone who has an avoidant attachment, they may need to take a break during a disagreement. A person who has an anxious resistant attachment may feel that they would need validation during these arguments.
- Stage Three: in this stage, the couple continues to work on developing their new adaptive cycle (Beasley & Ager, 2019). The therapist will assist the couple in recognizing how their pattern is shifting and develop a new narrative to describe their relationship (Beasley & Ager, 2019).
Ultimately, couples therapy can be an emotional process as it requires that a person becomes aware how their childhood has influenced their current relationships. Additionally, it can offer a space for couples to change their views on what relationship “success” looks like. It is perfectly okay for a couple to decide that moving on from the relationship is the best course of action. However, couples therapy can assist people in increasing their validation, interest, and joy within a relationship so that it has the potential to flourish.
Beasley, C. C., & Ager, R. (2019). Emotionally focused couples therapy: A systematic review of its effectiveness over the past 19 years. Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work, 16(2), 144-159. https://doi.org/10.1080/23761407.2018.1563013
Wong, D. W., Hall, K. R., & Hernandez, L. W. (2020). Counseling individuals through the lifespan. SAGE Publications.
Couples therapy and marriage counseling in Palm Beach County.