This is a question I am often asked by couples when they are referred to me or considering coming in for this service. Certainly this is not a black or white issue and not easy to answer with a “yes” or “no.”
The first issues is, what does “work” mean to you? If one goes into couples therapy, thinking that there will be some magical response to an agent of change (i.e. the therapist), they are missing a crucial component: themselves. Going into couples therapy should ideally start with the prerequisite of both partners being willing participants in the journey of self-inquiry, in addition to the process of beginning a different type of communication with their partner. In other words, if you go into couples therapy with the notion that “its all him” or “its all her,” you will frankly most likely be disappointed.
During the process of shifting the dynamics that are not working in a relationship, one must have at least somewhat of an open heart to looking at the parts of themselves that add to the dynamic at play. To put it simply, couples therapy works (amazingly) if you are willing to take some responsibility for your role in the intricate dance that has been choreographed by both your partner AND yourself over time. Change starts with awareness – not just of the other person, but of yourself.
In summary, if you are considering to embark on couples therapy – which, by the way, can help in two sessions or 20, both partners should begin by asking themselves if they are willing to look at themselves and not just come in with the idea that “he (or she) needs all the fixing.” If this foundation for the work is there, I can say with much more certainty that couples therapy indeed does work.
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Written by Niloo Dardashti, PsyD, HHP