My Partner and I are Not Married. Can We Still Go to Couples Therapy?

You may find yourself in a relationship that needs some outside guidance in order to progress in a healthy way. Couples therapy is designed to help partners overcome many relationship obstacles such as communication issues, infidelity, power struggles, or intimacy problems. These obstacles, however, are not simply limited to married couples. Here, therapists explain how couples therapy is available to any kinds of partners, regardless of whether or not you are married:

Therapist Denise OnofreyDenise Onofrey, MA, LMFTC: Couples therapy is relationship therapy. All couples face challenges, and partners need support to navigate those challenges in a healthy and effective manner. Most “marriage” therapists have the skills and knowledge to support every type of relationship, but it is essential you ask a potential therapist specific questions so that you can make an educated choice about which therapist to work with.

Therapists are people, too; they may come from a specific viewpoint on the costs and benefits of some relationship configurations. For example, some therapists believe that living together, or cohabitation, has great costs to the relationship and therefore don’t support a couple’s choice to do so. Other therapists believe there is a benefit to cohabitation prior to marriage. It is important to ask clarifying questions of your potential therapist to ensure your views align. However, I encourage all people seeking therapy to be open-minded and willing to hear opposing views in order to grow and expand our perspectives. Though a good therapist checks his or her opinions at the door, consider what questions you need to ask in order to ensure you are entering into a therapeutic relationship in which you can thrive.

Last, research shows that most relationships endure similar phases. Some phases are more trying than others, whereas some are more fun and light. Long and committed relationships in therapy are different than deciding to marry or deciding if someone is fit to date. The phase of your relationship may also impact the work you and your partner will do within couples therapy.

Therapist Susan LevitonSusan J. Leviton, MA, LMFT: Couples therapy is not synonymous with marriage counseling. Couples therapy is appropriate for any two adults who are having excessive conflict in their relationship. You can enter into therapy regardless of your living arrangements, or how long you have been together, or your sexual orientation. In fact, in many situations the “couple” is a parent and child, or siblings. In other words, the title of the treatment is not the important factor. What matters is that two people want help with their relationship.

It is important to remember that the goal of the therapist is not to “fix” the relationship, but rather to help the couple clarify their individual needs, learn better communication skills, and examine areas of conflict so that each partner is able to make thoughtful decisions about what is and is not working for them within the relationship.

Therapist Jonathan BartlettJonathan Bartlett, MA, MFT: There are many critical stages in a relationship that take place before or beyond the bonds of marriage—all of which can benefit from therapy. Not every therapist has had the chance to develop their expertise working with couples. Those that have those skills are generally happy to work with unmarried couples.

The phrase “marriage counselor” is an outdated but popular search term that still might lead you to a great relationship counselor. Be sure you are both comfortable inquiring into your counselor’s experience with unmarried couples if you have any doubts.

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