Couples Therapy

Debunking that Negative Stigma

Writing by Rhiann McNally
Illustrations by Alexa Coe

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No two words can bring a chill down the spines of a quibbling couple quite like couples therapy. Whether you’re the one hearing the suggestion or the one suggesting it, it can be a big pill to swallow.

The negative stigma surrounding couples therapy is disappearing generation by generation. But it can still be a scary prospect. You may have a lot of questions, ‘Are we really that bad?’ being chief among them.

Whether you have decided to take the plunge or are just considering getting help, a lot of questions may be floating around in your head right now.

To help bust these myths, we spoke to Melissa Ferrari, one of Australia’s most sought-after relationship experts with over 20 years of experience in couples counselling.


Couples Therapy is a Last Resort

FALSE

Couples Therapy is often seen as a last resort. In movies and TV, it’s something the couple decide to do when they’re on the brink of calling it quits.

Negative stigma to do with couples therapy can make it hard to seek help. But the best way to ensure your relationship is on a good path is to use couples therapy as a means of prevention.

Having a niggling disagreement, you just can’t shake? Scared it might impact the future of your relationship? Talk to a therapist and see if you can’t nip that problem in the bud.

Couples therapy isn’t evidence that your relationship is close to death, it’s evidence that you will do what it takes to have a healthy and loving relationship.

Ferrari recommends couples have weekly, if not daily, check-ins. “These regular type of check-ins help to keep you both connected and not allow for resentments to build up and clear the air to make room for more happy times and connection.”


Therapy is a Waste of Time and Money

FALSE

Separating can also be a waste of time and money if the problem is something that can be fixed with a little assistance from a counsellor.

Most therapists will work with you to make sure you’re not breaking the bank. You can get rebates through insurance and you can access free counselling services through community organisations, religious groups, and universities. 

The stigma around therapy is what causes this myth to persist. The only way therapy will be a waste is if you or your partner don’t put in the work. If you’re serious about fixing your relationship, therapy is well worth it.

Ferrari explains, “The average price for a couple therapy session is anywhere from $160 to $250 per hour.” There are rebates available. If you are serious about getting couples therapy, talk to your GP.

Sessions can be long or short. She says she prefers more intensive sessions. “Sometimes long sessions are a therapist’s greatest tool to getting to the heart of issues and solving them, which means couples spend less time in couple therapy overall.”

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“Bottling up feelings can start to cause disconnection, lack of intimacy, sadness and anger for a couple,”

Ferrari  explains.

Couples Therapy is Embarrassing

Mostly FALSE

Ferrari says she thinks the stigma of couples therapy is caused by people not wanting others to think they are “not in love anymore” or that “they have problems”.

“Sometimes people worry there is something “wrong” with them or maybe they have a “mental health issue”, Ferrari says.

Couples therapy is considered embarrassing because all therapy is considered embarrassing. The negative stigma in relation to mental health and wellness is slowly diminishing.

In any case, you don’t have to publicly announce your intent to attend couples therapy. It can be something you and your partner keep to yourselves. But don’t treat it as a dirty, little secret. It is never a bad thing to seek help.

Going to couples therapy doesn’t mean you aren’t soulmates, it doesn’t diminish your relationship in the slightest. It is NEVER a bad thing to seek help.


If We Bottle Everything Up it Will Go Away

FALSE

“Bottling up feelings can start to cause disconnection, lack of intimacy, sadness and anger for a couple,” Ferrari explains.

It does not make your feelings go away. It can even make them burst out in the most intense ways. It’s likely you have already witnessed the results of such behaviour, like a screaming match over who left the milk out.

If you have trouble discussing your feelings and frustrations, couples therapy might be a good way for you to learn to express yourself.

Ferrari says that feelings that go unexpressed or are not well understood can make it seem like you don’t love each other anymore.

“Often when working in couple therapy, these feelings can be worked with and understood between a couple and resentment doesn’t have to then set in.”


The Therapist Will Take Sides

Mostly FALSE

This makes an excellent plot point in movies and TV shows. But it rarely happens in real life. “A qualified couple therapist is trained in not taking sides. Our focus is on the couple relationship and how you take care of and engage with each other,” Ferrari says.

Therapy isn’t about winning and losing. If your goal going into therapy is to win an argument, find another way to scratch that competitive itch.

The therapist is going to hear both sides, and help you find the healthiest solution to your problems. Whether that swings in your favour or your partners, doesn’t matter. Your goal shouldn’t be to win, but to come away with a healthy relationship.

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Couples Therapy is Hard Work

TRUE, but so is a troubled relationship

All self-improvement is hard work. If it was easy then the world would be made up of perfect people, and there would be no war or reality TV.

Ferrari says “Our close relationship as a couple is the place we find safety, security, encouragement and support. It is the place we can get the energy to go out into the world to achieve great things and contribute to society.”

If you are worried about putting too much work into your relationship, that is probably something you’ll want to discuss with a therapist, if you plan on staying together.

“Nurturing your relationship also has a preventative effect on mental health issues. If our relationship are good, our world can be good.”

Breaking out of the same destructive cycles you may have been in for years, might take a bit of getting used to. But once you get over the initial hurdles, your relationship will be stronger than ever.