Does Couples Therapy Work?

Couples therapy was the topic of a front-page article in the Sunday Styles Section of the New York Times a few weeks ago with the provocative title “Does Couples Therapy Work?  It made couples therapy sound like a nightmare with couples basically at each other’s throats and the therapist running for cover.

I see many couples in my practice and there is one basic rule: no fighting in my office.

No one needs to pay a therapist to watch a couple fight.  They can do that at home—for free.

What my couples learn to do is talk openly and honestly with each other, without resorting to the destructive patterns that have caused rupture and unhappiness in their relationship. There is a reason this happens:  they feel safe.

This is the primary goal of couples therapy, to create a safe environment so each partner can speak and be heard without fear of criticism or negativity from their partner. Sure, couples come into my office upset and angry, but I help them manage these feelings so they can speak to each other calmly and respectfully, and be heard.

We are all basically the same. When we feel attacked or afraid, we either retreat or fight back.  In couples, one partner usually attacks and the other retreats, and one behavior provokes the other, and that cycle continues until connection is lost and words become toxic.

In any relationship, there will be differences and disappointments, sometimes serious ones, but connection and intimacy develop from an ability to repair the hurt, and that comes from feeling heard and understood.

The other day, a couple described an argument they started to have during the week.  “Let’s pretend we’re in Mindy’s office”, they said. They transferred the safe feeling they had in my office to their home, and could use those skills to reduce negativity and maintain connection with each other despite their differences.

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