Signs You May Need Couples Therapy

Signs You May Need Couples Therapy

Let’s look at the science behind couple’s therapy to learn more about it.

Couples therapy is psychotherapy with both members of a romantic couple, delivered with the goal of helping them improve their relationship (Johnson, 2019). Most couples come to couple therapy because they recognize that something in their relationship is not working well or is causing one or both partners considerable distress. The therapist works with them to identify the problems, understand each other’s perspectives, and collaborate in resolving the problems.

Couples therapy does not have the explicit goal of keeping the couple together, although this is typically what the couple themselves want. A couple therapist is not required to try to save a relationship that is especially unhealthy or abusive, and a couple therapist should generally not provide an opinion on whether a couple should stay together or not. Rather, the therapist’s goal is to help the couple become aware of the dynamics they are experiencing and their ability and willingness to meet each other’s needs. With this awareness, couples are better able to make decisions regarding their long-term prospects.

“Lack of communication can drive a spike between two people wider than any physical distance.”
― Mark W Boyer

There are at least three reasons why couple therapy is important (Snyder et al., 2006).

1. First, relationship distress – unhappiness, uncertainty, and conflict – is very common among couples, to the extent that for many decades, roughly half of couples that marry in the United States eventually divorce (Kennedy & Ruggles, 2014).

2. Second, this distress can and does affect the entire family system; when a couple has relationship difficulties, their mental and physical well-being suffers, as does the mental and physical well-being of any children they may be raising, or any other people living in the home with them.

3. Third, couples therapy can positively affect more than just relationship problems. Research tells us that resolving issues in the couple relationship can help improve other mental health difficulties, and that couple therapy can be used as a primary intervention for one partner’s psychiatric disorder (Snyder et al., 2006). For example, when one partner’s depression is negatively impacting the romantic relationship, couple therapy can be used to treat the depression. The romantic partner without depression gets to learn about depression with their partner, be involved in enacting a treatment plan, and benefit from the support of the therapist as they deal with their own needs around having a partner with depression.

4. Finally, couples therapy is important because people are generally not very proactive about asking for help (Williamson et al., 2018). In fact, some research suggests that couples wait up to several years on average, after behavioral patterns have become very entrenched and distressing, before seeking help from a therapist.

Couples Therapy Techniques

The primary techniques of couple therapy tend to result in the changes discussed above. These include (Benson et al., 2012):

(1) Reframing conflicts and key interactions. For example, a couple might work to see how both partners contribute to a problematic dynamic. The fight is not just “one person’s fault” – it is a learned pattern that reflects each of their needs and emotions.

(2) Reducing unhelpful behaviors and increasing helpful ones. common pattern is for one partner to aggressively pursue engagement, while the other becomes defensive or withdraws (Johnson, 2019). Neither behavior is helpful for safe connection. In place of these patterns, partners learn to state what they need in the moment. One partner might learn to say, “When I say this, I am afraid that you will shut down and hide everything away,” while the other could practice replying, “Your anger does make me want to run and hide. I need reassurance that you still love me even though you’re angry.”

(3) Increasing disclosure of needs and emotions. Couples learn to practice effective self-disclosure. If one partner is frustrated by the other’s lack of sexual interest, for example, both partners need to express their experience fully to the other. Behind the anger and defensiveness might be fears of being unloved, being rejected, or no longer being desired.

(4) Increasing positive time together. Often, couples are so besieged by the demands of life that they have few chances to spend intentional time together. Couple therapists are frequently advocates for date nights, daily check-ins, and gratitude practices.

In Sum

Couples therapy can be a saving grace for unhappy couples and families. You should consider it if you find that there are challenges in your relationship that you and your partner have not been able to resolve on your own.


● Benson, L. A., McGinn, M. M., & Christensen, A. (2012). Common principles of couple therapy. Behavior Therapy, 43(1), 25-35.

● Johnson, S. (2019). Attachment in action—changing the face of 21st century couple therapy. Current Opinion in Psychology, 25, 101-104.

● Kennedy, S., & Ruggles, S. (2014). Breaking up is hard to count: The rise of divorce in the United States, 1980–2010. Demography, 51(2), 587–598.

● Snyder, D. K., Castellani, A. M., & Whisman, M. A. (2006). Current status and future directions in couple therapy. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 317-344.

● Williamson, H. C., Hammett, J. F., Ross, J. M., Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (2018). Premarital education and later relationship help-seeking. Journal of Family Psychology, 32 (2), 276