Is couples therapy the answer? Is couples therapy the answer?

It is becoming increasingly common for couples to separate for a variety of reasons, making these types of supports a lifesaver for some.

Medical Advisor Tatiana Peña Ríos, clinical psychologist.

Just as with health care, couples therapy should be more of a preventative tool than a cure. Tatiana Peña Ríos, clinical psychologist, recommends seeking out this type of guidance “…once it is clear that there is an obstacle in the way that is preventing the relationship from flowing. For some, this can involve keeping emotions under control, and for others this can involve communication or how each partner interacts with their each other’s families. If there is a certain repeated behavior, this can also mean it’s time to admit that something is not working as it should. If there is a consistent pattern in the relationship, there’s no need to look for explanations in the other; instead they need to look within themselves.”

According to Dr. Peña, 85% of couples that go to therapy do so because of communication problems, due to difficulties resolving conflicts or “…because old wounds are reopened from years ago. You have to teach people to communicate, to talk from their point of view and to listen from the point of view of the other.” Other reasons people seek counseling include domestic violence, physical and psychological abuse, infidelity and how to raise kids.

Men are more receptive

While men are not always the ones to take the initiative to go to counseling, they tend to be more receptive to the process, according to the psychologist’s experience. “In general, women are the ones to request the initial appointment. But I’ve noticed that men tend to be more receptive because women almost always ask for an appointment thinking that it’s the other that has to change. In general, in my therapy sessions, I’ve noticed that some women will leave counseling while men will continue. There are cases, however in which both stay until the end,” she adds.

The ideal situation for couples therapy is that in which both parties decide together to go to therapy, “One of the most important things about this type of support is to understand that there are two people to every couple and they each have a 50% responsibility,” states Peña. But what is the key to success with couples therapy? In addition to having the commitment of both, our psychologist emphasizes the importance of each accepting they have a problem, that they want to overcome it and that they take responsibility for it. She also suggests establishing some minimum conditions for therapy sessions: listening when the other is talking, not interrupting, asking for a turn to talk, avoiding shouting and mistreating each other, and keeping focused on the issue at hand.

“Personally, and depending on the situation, my suggestion is to not keep secrets from each other, especially if this is one of the issues that is affecting the relationship.”

Is couples therapy just for married couples?

Couples therapy is not just for those who are already in a marriage. Tatiana Peña explains that these types of supports are also healthy for those who are not married and also explains that you don’t have to be experiencing problems to go to therapy.

“In our society, we are generally used to healthcare issues requiring intervention instead of prevention. But as individuals and as couples, we all have things that need checkups and it is okay to seek professional help without having an obvious problem, as among other duties, our role as therapists is to provide people with the tools they need so that in specific situations, they can see things from a different perspective. Our job is to resolve conflicts and serve as mediators,” she emphasizes.

Going to see a counselor or psychologist is therefore not just for “crazy people.” Seeking these professionals out is a necessary part of taking care of your emotions, which, similar to your body, need support to stay balanced.”

Tips for a better relationship

  • Learn to keep your own emotions under control and know how to handle the other’s.
  • Heal issues that have been confusing in a person’s history, making the relationship more transparent.

  • Prioritize self-knowledge, “The more I know myself, the easier it will be to identify my behaviors in response to certain issues, as our partners often are the ones to confront us with things we do not like,” the psychologist explains.

  • Be understanding and accept each other’s differences.

  • In order to avoid falling into a routine, don’t abandon the activities you do as a couple or as an individual, especially when children are involved.