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The idea of going to couples therapy can bring up a lot of questions. What will the therapy be like? What will happen during the sessions? Does the therapy work? Here we answer several common questions about couples therapy.

What is couples therapy?

Couples therapy is psychotherapy that helps couples resolve conflicts, improve communication and strengthen their relationship. It is suitable for couples in all relationship types and focuses on addressing issues that affect the health of the relationship. In therapy, couples work with a therapist to understand the core issues, improve communication, manage disagreements and strengthen their relationship.

This involves exploring the history of the relationship, improving the expression of thoughts and feelings, addressing specific problems such as finances or parenting, and developing conflict management strategies. Couples therapy is valuable during crises such as infidelity or major change. The goal is to help the couple understand what is best for them, whether that means staying together or separating in a healthy way. Seeking couples therapy can be a powerful step towards revitalising a relationship and building a stronger, more fulfilling future together.

Is couples therapy effective?

Couples therapy has proven to be effective for many couples facing challenges in their relationships. Effectiveness can vary depending on the therapy method used, the couple’s commitment to the therapy process, the therapist’s skills and experience, and the nature of the problems or conflicts in the relationship. Research generally supports the effectiveness of couple therapy, with about 70% of couples experiencing improvements in their relationship after therapy.

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How do you know when it is time to seek couples therapy?

Deciding if it is time to seek couple’s therapy can be based on several things: constant communication problems, recurring conflicts without resolution, emotional distance, or resentment after infidelity. If any of these are present, it may be time to consider professional help.

Other indications can include difficulty coping with major life changes, problems with sexual intimacy, disagreements over important life decisions, and frequent thoughts of separation or divorce. Seeking couples therapy is a step towards improving your relationship, demonstrating a commitment to work together to resolve problems.

Common questions asked in couples therapy

In couples therapy, questions are used to deepen understanding between partners and explore the dynamics of the relationship. Questions can relate to the current state of the relationship, challenges faced, and what the couple hopes to achieve from therapy. Communication is often the focus, with questions about how the couple handles disagreements and whether there are topics they are avoiding. The therapist may also ask about feelings and needs, how love is expressed, and how conflicts are resolved. Discussions about changes in the relationship over time, wishes for the future, and intimacy and closeness are also key. These questions aim to encourage honesty and reflection, help couples understand each other better, and work towards a stronger relationship.


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How does treatment for relationship problems work?

Couples therapy begins with initial sessions for the therapist to get to know the couple and their challenges. This is followed by setting joint goals to improve the relationship, such as better communication or conflict management. The work phase focuses on developing communication skills, resolving conflicts, working through emotional issues, solving problems and introducing positive behavioural changes, with active input from both partners. There are often exercises to work on between sessions. The process ends with an evaluation and a plan to maintain and improve the relationship going forward. Each session is about 60 minutes and take place weekly if necessary, but often every two or three weeks. The length of a couple’s therapy programme is tailored to them, but is usually approximately 10 sessions.

What is the therapist’s role?

The therapist’s role is to guide and support the couple through the process, with the couple’s involvement being crucial to success. The therapist helps the couple to identify patterns and challenges and to work on different strategies to change communication and behaviours to make the relationship more satisfying. They share the floor and allow both parties to communicate openly to find solutions to problems. Couples therapy aims to provide insights and tools for a stronger and more satisfying relationship.

Are there different methods used in couples therapy?

There are several different approaches to couples therapy. Here are two evidence-based approaches that are commonly used:

1. Integrative behavioural couple therapy (IBCT)

IBCT aims to help couples accept the irreconcilable differences between them and work on increasing closeness and understanding by improving emotional acceptance and empathic communication. The method combines behavioural changes with acceptance strategies. It is an evidence-based approach, meaning that it has been shown to produce good results in research and is a further development of cognitive behavioural therapy for couples.

2. Emotionally focused therapy (EFT)

EFT is a method that focuses on strengthening the emotional bond between partners by exploring the emotional responses that underly the couple’s interaction patterns. The therapy helps couples identify and express their underlying emotional needs and learn to meet each other’s needs in a more satisfying way. EFT is an evidence-based approach that has been shown to produce good results in research.

Each method has its own strengths and may be more or less appropriate depending on the couple’s specific situation and needs. Things such as the Gottman Method, other couple therapies and literature can also be helpful in learning more about relationships. Many couples therapists use a combination of these methods to deal with a couple’s unique challenges.


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12 common questions about couples therapy

What is couples therapy?

Couple therapy is psychotherapy that helps couples resolve conflicts, improve communication and strengthen their relationship. It is suitable for couples in all relationship types and focuses on addressing issues that affect the health of the relationship.

Is couples therapy effective?

Couples therapy has been proven effective for many couples facing challenges in their relationships, with about 70% of those treated experiencing an improved relationship.

How do you know when it’s time to seek couples therapy?

If you are experiencing communication problems, recurring conflicts, emotional distance, stress or have trust issues such as infidelity, it may be time to consider professional help. You may also have intimacy issues or recurring thoughts of separation or divorce.

How does treatment for relationship problems work?

Treatment often starts with an assessment phase to identify problems and patterns. This is followed by an active treatment phase where work on tools and strategies to change patterns is central. Finally, there is a closing phase where the treatment is summarised for further work after the therapy.

What are exercises in couples therapy?

Couples therapy uses various exercises to help couples break patterns and develop a better relationship. These include communication, spending time together, and showing gratitude.

What are common questions in couples therapy?

Questions can relate to the current state of the relationship, challenges faced, and what the couple hopes to achieve from therapy.

Can couples therapy be done online?

Lavendla’s experienced psychologists and therapists provide online therapy sessions via video conference. This approach makes the therapy more flexible and accessible.

What is the therapist’s role in therapy?

The therapist leads the process and helps the couple to identify patterns and challenges and to work on different strategies to change communication and behaviors to make the relationship more satisfying.

What is IBCT?

IBCT (Integrative Behavioural Therapy for Couples) is an evidence-based therapy that aims to help couples accept their differences and work on increasing closeness and understanding by improving emotional acceptance and empathic communication. It combines behavioural changes with acceptance strategies.

What is EFT?

EFT (Emotionally focused therapy) is an evidence-based therapy that focuses on building and strengthening the emotional bond between couples by exploring and reshaping the negative patterns of interaction that contribute to conflict and distance in the relationship.

My partner has mental health issues, can we go to couples therapy?

If you have problems with depression or other mental health issues such as addiction, it is important to seek help for this separately from couples therapy. These problems often need to be addressed before or at the same time as couples therapy for good results.

Where can I seek help?

Your GP can refer you to a therapist. Alternatively, book an online session with one of Lavendla’s experienced therapists. We make the difficult easier.

Treatment with Integrative Behavioural Couples Therapy

Integrative behavioural couples therapy (IBCT) is an evidence-based form of couples therapy that helps couples improve their relationship by accepting each other and increasing emotional closeness. IBCT combines traditional behavioural therapy techniques with a focus on both change and acceptance. Here is how a treatment with IBCT usually works:

Initial phase

  • Assessment: Treatment begins with a thorough assessment of the couple’s relationship, including their current problems, relationship history, and each party’s perspectives and experiences.
  • Feedback session: The therapist provides feedback based on the initial assessment. This phase often includes discussions about the couple’s strengths as well as areas that need development.

Work phase

  • Focus on acceptance: IBCT emphasises the importance of accepting unbridgeable differences between partners. The therapist works with the couple to help them understand and empathically accept each other’s needs, desires, and patterns of behaviour that cannot be easily changed.
  • Emotional closeness: By encouraging openness and communication, the therapist helps the couple increase their emotional closeness and understanding of each other.
  • Behavior change: Although the focus is on acceptance, IBCT also includes strategies for behaviour change. This may involve developing new communication skills, solving problems, and working on improving daily interactions.

Closure

  • Evaluation of progress: Together, the therapist and couple evaluate the progress made during therapy and discuss any future steps or continued support.

IBCT focuses on helping couples develop a deeper understanding and acceptance of each other, which can lead to a more satisfying and sustainable relationship. By balancing acceptance with active change efforts, IBCT aims to reduce conflict, increase closeness and strengthen the emotional bond between partners.

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Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.