Is Couples Therapy Really Worth It?

By Amanda Linan
While it may seem like a silly question for a couples therapist to answer, I wanted to weigh in on this question for anyone who is really wondering if it’s worth all the cost and the hype. The answer is: sometimes. Success in therapy is determined by a whole multitude of factors, starting with what success really means, but I’ll lay it out simply so you can decide if it would be worth it for you.

1. The therapist

Who you choose as a therapist is an important decision. Do they have a personality that you like? Do they have an approach and style that feels comfortable? How it feels to sit with them in a room matters a lot for your comfort. If you are uncomfortable talking to them or you dislike them, you are not going to be willing to be as open and progress will be limited. This is one of the first things taught to therapists in school: the therapeutic relationship is one of the most important factors in predicting a positive outcome. Interview your therapist like you are interviewing them for a job because you are!

2. The methodology

The model your therapist subscribes to makes a difference in their approach and philosophy. While some methods may certainly work, there are methodologies that consistently show more substantial and long-lasting positive outcomes. Gottman Method Therapy has been shown time and again to have positive outcomes that last. EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) is another methodology associated with positive outcomes. Now, anyone can say they practice these without following it true to form, so how do you know if what you are getting is the real deal? You can ask the therapist: are they a purist with this methodology, and, if not, what other ideas do they bring in? You can also look at their credentialing. Someone who is trained to Gottman level 1 or 2 is likely familiar but may not be a purist. Someone who is level 3 trained or certified is more likely to lean heavily into that methodology. Similar to EFT, if they are part of The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, there is a good chance they are more of a purist. To be clear, someone does not have to be a purist to be a great therapist. Finding someone who bases their practice on research is just going to yield more consistent results.

3. Your commitment

How you show up to therapy and how you engage with the things you are asked to do outside of the room is one of the biggest predictors of a positive outcome. If you show up halfway out the door, no, there is not going to be progress. Therapy is a commitment. It is showing up and choosing the relationship, it is choosing the hard work. The hard work can be richly rewarded if you are willing to stick to it. You need to be willing to look at yourself, even the unflattering parts, be vulnerable, make difficult changes, and give your partner some grace and understanding. Depending on the relationship, that may be easier said than done. Effort counts for a lot here, and your therapist can help you figure out the rest.

4. What you define as success

If your idea of success is a fairytale romance and no fights ever, then you will not find much success. If your idea of success is gaining a deeper understanding of your partner, knowing when and how to engage with them in a positive way, even in times of conflict, and being able to work through challenging conflicts without burning the house down, then you can find success. Conflicts happen, challenges in relationships come, and all of that is okay. Therapy is really about healing the hurts that have happened and figuring out how to handle the challenges that will come.

Is there a time that couples therapy is not going to be successful? YES. If there is active domestic violence in the relationship or fear for safety, then couples therapy is actually contraindicated. Also, if there is an undisclosed secret, like a hidden drug problem, affair, financial betrayal, or the like. It is hard to build a steady foundation when there is a large secret at play. If you or your partner are not sure if you even want to be in the relationship, then you need to take a step back and make that choice first through Discernment Counseling. Therapy involves dedication, and that is difficult to do when one foot is out the door already. If you have any of these circumstances happening, then individual therapy is a good place to start to help you work through those issues before setting foot in the therapy room.

Objectively speaking, research shows that relationship therapy has a success rate, meaning some sort of positive outcome, of between 70% and 90% depending on the study and criteria. There are good odds that you will gain something from the experience. Only you can decide if it is worth it depending on what your circumstances are. If you have questions, it never hurts to ask, so reach out to us if you want to talk through some of your circumstances.