Jeffrey Kaplan, MA, LMFT: A therapist typically decides to work with couples not only because he or she has the skills to facilitate healthy relationships, but also because the therapist believes the couples can resolve their issues and progress to a higher level of relational satisfaction. That is not to say, of course, that all couples will decide to stay together after seeing a couples therapist. Sometimes, the couple is going to therapy to discover what the best way of breaking up may be, without hurting the other beyond measure and/or destroying their family, particularly if children are involved.
In the end, a therapist is there to help the system seek its most optimal solution. For different couples that means different things. Partners who fight continuously may still have a lot of passion and love for one another, but struggle with resentments that block the relationship. A therapist can help with that. Other couples may feel that their relationship is fine, but their sex life is miserable. A therapist can help with that too. Other couples may want to work through an issue of infidelity by one or both partners. A therapist can help with all of these different yet common problems presented in relationships.
Ultimately, the therapist can help each person in the relationship find the most satisfactory point that they can within the relationship system that exists, however that might look.
Deanna Daniels-Jacinto, LMFT: Typically, when couples enter into therapy a problem is present and may have existed within the relationship for a period of time. Sometimes, couples do not seek therapy until they are in crisis, or when one partner has privately made a decision to leave the relationship and uses therapy as a catalyst to do so. Because of these and numerous other variables, the process of therapy (not the therapist) could result in the decision to end a relationship.
The process of therapy may pose tough questions for each partner to answer or reflect upon. There may be times during the course of therapy when continuing the relationship is questioned. However, the process of therapy may result in a more fulfilling, rewarding, and mutually respectful relationship. Couples often come away from the therapeutic experience having learned new coping skills, understanding something new about each other, or feeling reconnected to what brought them together in the first place. Often, couples will come away from therapy with a renewed and stronger commitment to each other and their relationship.
Deb Hirschhorn, PhD: It could happen that a couple splits up after attending couples therapy because of a therapist’s lack of skills, and I will explain how. When a therapist only meets one person in the relationship, a therapist not specifically trained in couples therapy may become biased. This experience is reinforced the longer one person keeps seeing that therapist. I have heard all too often of therapists who drew conclusions about spouses without meeting them and insisted the couple split.
Another reason this could happen—even when partners go in to therapy together—is that the therapist might not know how to handle abuse, including verbal abuse. When told of the abuse, the therapist might also start to pressure the other person to leave the relationship. This can be a mistake as it leaves the abuser untreated! The abuser, obviously, needs help too.
There is a solution, however. Go to someone with a degree—not just one or two courses—in marriage and family therapy. The more complicated your situation, the higher the degree and the longer the amount of experience needed. An MFT is trained to want to hear both sides and to not be thrown by verbal or emotional abuse. There are even those therapists who feel that domestic violence can and must be treated (makes sense, right?) and will not be thrown off by that.
So, as an informed consumer, it is your right to ask the therapist what their training in couples work really is. You can also ask them their philosophy on keeping marriages together.
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