Although our modern attitude towards therapy has (thankfully) become far more positive and open, attitudes towards couples therapy remain a few decades behind. Most couples don’t even get to the stage where therapy is considered. A lot of the time, it’s easier to break up and walk away, egos intact. The couples that do reach the decision to go into therapy together face an uncomfortable challenge; admitting that the relationship is not perfect. And very often, persevering with a situation that feels hopeless.
The truth is, of course, no relationship is perfect, many aren’t hopeless, and therapy can be a great way to see that. Unfortunately, couples therapy is often associated with a lot of unnecessary shame. When we hear about our friends that are going to couples therapy, we can’t help but think it signifies the end. Why not signifying a new beginning?
Think about it like this. If you and your partner have made the decision to try out some couples counselling, you are miles ahead of the majority. The fact that you’ve both agreed to go in the first place should not go unnoticed. It highlights that you both care enough about the relationship and each other to try something new. Plus, even if things are looking dire, it proves that compromise, communication, and agreement are all still possible. Getting to counselling can very often be the first significant step in positive progress.
How you engage with therapy is likely influenced by whether you are an idealist (romantic) or a realist in the context of relationships. An idealist values spontaneity and excitement. They are often in love with the idea of love, and the feeling of being in love. And often, they subscribe to the myth of the “perfect partner” or “one true love”, which can lead them to walk away from relationships before they have even begun.
In contrast, a realist is more likely to accept their partners for who they are, imperfections and all. Their focus tends to be on keeping the relationship running smoothly, although sometimes this can lead to boredom and repetition.
Often, we fluctuate between these states. We are an idealist in the early days, but as a relationship lengthens, we are forced to confront the less romantic reality of the everyday. No one is perfect, and the more time you spend with another person, the clearer this is. It becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile fantasy and reality. For some people, this is a difficult pill to swallow (and it’s no wonder, since we all grew up on a diet of fairy tales and the media-driven glamorisation of celebrity relationships).
For a true idealist, couples counselling can be a very tricky step. It forces you to dispel idealist myths of the perfect partner. It involves admitting that you and your partner might not be perfectly compatible. And though it might seem simpler to break up, and keep searching for your one true love, there are so many potential benefits of persevering. Through the context of counselling, idealists can develop realistic methods for communicating their needs for romance and spontaneity. Difficult conversations and blunt communication might not seem romantic on the surface, but they open up new spaces for intimacy and emotional connection.
Alternatively, counselling might force you to admit that a little bit more spontaneity and romance may be required to keep things healthy long-term. If your partner is more romantic than you are, it might be worth meeting in the middle and making more of an effort to go out on spontaneous dates, or spice things up in the bedroom. Although it’s useful to be realistic and keep your expectations in check, perhaps you’re not aiming as high as you could be? Look to your romantic partner and recognise the possibilities in their optimism. No matter how long you’ve been together, there is always more to be learnt from each other.
At the end of the day, that’s what couples therapy is all about. It’s an obvious and predictable trope, but relationships really are all about communication. If you and your partner can hear - and are willing to hear - what the other is saying, you are vastly multiplying the potential in each other and the relationship. If therapy is the medium through which you can achieve that, there is certainly no point in waiting.