What Couples Therapy Is NOT?

Every week I spend hours returning the calls of potential clients who found my name on one of the Los Angeles couples therapist directories or through a good old Google search.  Usually, the questions I am asked are in the ballpark of - “How does couples therapy work?” or “What to expect as a client?” or “Will couples therapy save my marriage?”

Yesterday, during one of these calls, a prospective client asked about my “process” and I gave her my quite polished spiel which I have been perfecting throughout the decade and changed since the opening of my couples therapy clinic. In response, she said: “Wow, this was very detailed and helpful, thank you.” I laughed and explained that I have been a couples therapist for a while and had a lot of practice explaining what it is. After she scheduled our first appointment and hung up, I sat for a moment and thought to myself how often we discuss what couples therapy can do for us, and how seldom we talk about what couples therapy cannot do for us. “Ha” – I thought to myself – “this is a great topic for my next blog.”

The importance of this question is obvious. If couples therapy is a tool, it is crucial to know when and how to use it, as well as when not to use it. If we compare couples therapy to medicine, it would be unwise to take laxatives in the hope of alleviating a migraine. Each tool has its place. On this note, when is couples therapy counter-indicated or just not very useful?

1. Pre-Req of Safety
Domestic violence situations are often seen as a big no-no for couples therapy until the physical safety of both partners is assured. However, I would take it a bit further. Even if there is no actual violence in the relationship, but one of the partners feels unsafe, couples therapy is a bad idea. For couples therapy to work, both partners have to be present and engaged in the process, which would be impossible if one of the partners is silenced by fear. If the violent or intimidating partner is interested in growth and is willing to commit to working on transforming his or her relationship and well-being, individual therapy is the way to go.

2. Absence of Love & Sexual Chemistry
Couples therapy can enhance desirable aspects of our relationships, help resolve the old emotional and mental baggage that stands in the way of our happiness, and teach the necessary relational skills for us to create the relationship we desire. What it cannot do is create something that was never part of the relationship in the first place, such as sexual attraction or love. If the couple had strong sexual chemistry earlier in the relationship, but now it is covered by layers of resentment and gained pounds, we can work to reconnect with that spark and enhance the sexual energy in the relationship. However, if sexual heat has never been part of the relationship, couples therapy will not be the answer.  Same with love. I don’t have a magic wand and, unfortunately, cannot conjure something out of nothing. If I could, my hourly fee would get a significant boost.

3. Fixing the  partner
You probably won’t be very surprised to hear that a lot of my clients come to my Los Angeles couples therapy clinic hoping that I will fix their partner. The general idea sounds something like “I am doing just fine, but my partner needs to get it together. Doctor, can you help him/her?” Unfortunately, this is not how therapy works. This is not how life works. Unless we are willing to look at our relationship as a mutual and shared co-creative process, while taking full responsibility for the quality of our relationship, we will be getting nowhere. Personal responsibility is a big deal. It is empowering. Accepting full personal responsibility for our relationship creates profound change in our experience, our vantage point, and the avenues of growth that become available to us. For the first time, we might be able to see beyond the narrow role we have been playing in our relationship (the caregiver, the victim, the boss, the child, the rebellious teen, the clown) and move beyond it. The opposite of personal responsibility is blaming people and circumstances for our outcomes. It is disempowering. Blaming our partner and expecting them to change, in order for us to be happy, means that we gave up our power. If our partner refuses to change – we are stuck. But it is not the case. Take your power back. Take responsibility. Make some changes.

If you are curious to know more about couples therapy or are interested in learning about a couples retreat I offer, check out the Couples Bootcamp or reach out via text, email, or phone. This is it for now. Be well, my friends.

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