On average, couples seek therapy for their relationship two to five years after they begin to experience trouble. Couples’ therapy “fails” upwards of 70% of the time because couples finally seek out help when so much damage has occurred that nothing can hold them together. They often fail to follow through with therapy thinking that things “should” improve between them after just a couple of sessions. However, if it took years to develop these difficulties, it is natural to expect that it will take some time to improve these interactions.
If you are seeking support and guidance for your relationship issues, be aware that simply selecting any couples’ therapist can be risky. All relationships have different levels of difficulty and are at very different levels of risk for ending versus improving. A skilled couples’ therapist that utilizes a research based method/framework is a major component to achieving your goals.
When a couple enters therapy, the skilled therapist assesses the couple to determine if both members are “committed” (“leaning in” vs “leaning out”) to the relationship and “trust” each other. If this is the case, the couple can move forward with couples’ therapy to help them develop better communication and conflict management skills.
If the couple has experienced chronic negative interactions over the years, an affair, physical/emotional violence, or if one or both of the partners are leaning out of the relationship, then it must be determined whether the couple should do individual sessions first to help each partner discern whether they want to work on the relationship or not. Basically, there are three options a couple has for moving forward: (1) keep doing what you are doing, hoping for change without knowing how to implement it, and most likely end up in the same place you currently are, (2) decide to separate or divorce, or (3) make a commitment to the relationship and engage in couples counseling.
To assist in choosing an option, a couple can engage in discernment counseling, which is different than couples’ counseling. Discernment counseling brings more clarity, confidence, and understanding of each partner’s contribution to the problems in the relationship. This type of counseling is done individually and is generally short-term in nature. The goal is to help the leaning out partner decide to either continue as they are, clarify the decision to separate or divorce, or make a decision to reconcile and move into couples’ counseling, taking divorce off of the table. The research on discernment counseling indicates that 50% of discernment couples go on to couples therapy, 40% divorce, and 10% do nothing and stay the course. If a couple passes through discernment counseling and chooses to move into couples’ counseling, then couples’ counseling will focus on becoming closer emotionally, solving problems together more effectively, and achieving a more satisfying relationship.