Dear Meredith and LL Community,
I am hoping to find out from Meredith and the others out there who read Love Letters: Do you really believe in the value of couples therapy? Can it help heal and strengthen a relationship? Or is it, as I fear, just a mediated means to an end? My boyfriend and I have been dating on and off for more than four years. A few years ago, we decided to really make a go of things, as in no more on-again, off-again. From that point on, I felt we would be on our way to the rest of our lives together. Initially, it was easy. Great communication, great intimacy, and a lot of hope for the future. He was and is my very best friend. The other morning, we had a brief argument about work schedules, and he dropped the bomb: "I think we need to go to couples therapy." I felt like I had been punched in the heart.
Panic button hit. We both see individual therapists. Have for years before we met. In fact, I think our respective work on ourselves in therapy is a huge part of why things were going well for us. Why we committed successfully a few years ago, when for the first half of knowing each other we had a very intense hot and cold pattern established. I felt communication was vastly improved, conflict down, and spirits up. Yes, we do still have strong personalities, and we do push each other's buttons. But we no longer do so with bad intent. It just happens. And he says it's a problem. A couples therapy problem.
Spinning through my head go flashes from reality TV shows: tear-filled, profanity-laced, make-it-or-break-it sessions with celebrity doctors. Intense, dramatic bids to save your failing relationship. How do I stop freaking out and embrace the idea of therapy together leading to more positive change? Or am I right to be freaking out, because dropping the couples therapy card can only signal the end drawing near ... with added emotional suffering and a bill attached? Any advice on or experience with couples therapy? I'm still feeling sucker punched by the idea.
– Sucker Punched
I have a friend who always says that couples therapy pushes partners in one direction or the other. It speeds the process and forces clarity.
She went to a therapist with a boyfriend, and the sessions made it obvious that it was time to walk away. She does believe that if she and her boyfriend had wanted to make it work, the therapy would have helped. It wasn't the counseling that made them want to break up.
I do know of many relationships that got stronger because of therapy. Sometimes couples needed to learn how to fight without hurting each other's feelings beyond repair. Sometimes it was about learning how to schedule their lives for real quality time. A trained third party can be so useful, especially with everyday problems.
You need to calm down because you're not going to a celebrity doctor (I assume). No one will be filming your appointments to make good reality TV. Show your boyfriend that you care and that you're open to working on the relationship. Tell him you'll go – because you want to know how to push his buttons in the right ways.
Readers? Thoughts on couples therapy?