Couple therapy allows partners to talk with each other about areas of disagreement in a setting where they both will be understood and supported by an expert who can then guide them through successful means of communication with each other. Couples learn to identify their ongoing destructive pattern of interactions and learn how to change these to be more constructive ones. For my experience, couples that I have worked with felt they were not merely receiving advice on what to do, but became more aware of their problems at a deeper level, and which allowed them to better relate to each other. In essence, I helped couples become experts of their own relationship so that they can manage their ongoing challenges as a unit.
Is couple therapy effective?
Decades of research across various institutions has demonstrated that couple therapy is effective. The field is evolving, with more recent couple therapy approaches becoming increasingly more effective. What is most important is working with someone that has supervised training in couples therapy and uses an approach that fits your goals and comfort.
What about pre-marital therapy?
I have worked with several couples before they got married, sometimes even before they have decided to get engaged, because they want to develop better communication and problem solving skills.
Our conflicts are related to my in-laws, how can you help with that?
I have worked with several couples who report that one of their problems, sometimes the biggest problem, is conflict regarding their relationship with their in-laws. This was very common among the South Asian couples I worked with in couple therapy and carefully studied in my research who did in the end demonstrate substantial improvements in their relationship quality. However, this issue is not unique to South Asians, in fact, I find it is a universal problem. Conflict with in-laws can present itself as one partner experiencing their in-laws behaviour and attitude towards them as negative and hostile. For instance, the in-laws make comments are experienced as condescending or disrespectful. Or the in-laws give one spouse the silent treatment and in essence exclude them from the family, which can be very hurtful. Sometimes, it isn't any explicit ill treatment, however, there is tension in the relationship with in-laws, they may say or do things that are experienced as interference and not constructive towards the marriage. A part of this problem is feeling like your spouse does not stick up for you when it comes to conflict between his/her parents and you.
Often people fear that the solution to this dilemma that will be presented to them in therapy is to distance themselves from their extended family. That is not the case in my work. I have found through my extensive research and clinical work that much of the issue regarding in-laws is a result of and can be addressed by improving the quality of partners' communication. Often partners state that they have tried to communicate about these issues, but end up fighting and are unable to resolve them. The key is how you communicate and not just what you communicate. In therapy, couples are engaged in understanding themselves and their partner better, and reaching a point where they function as a team rather than against each other. When issues regarding their respective families come up, they feel more together on how they address them. When partners are working together and their respective families start to experience and see the couple as a unit, the family starts to change in how they behave towards the couple and each partner in the marriage. My goal is to help the couple find ways to be happy in their marriage and experience harmonious relations with their in-laws.
Check out my article in Desilife, a former Toronto Star based magazine, where I present the case of a composite couple and discuss how I help them address conflict due to their in-laws.
We don't know if we can afford it
The cost of couple therapy can add up. However, this investment needs to be weighed against the potential gains that can be made in the quality of your life. Research has found that marital satisfaction is related to one's physical and mental well being. A distressed marriage impacts not just your satisfaction with your relationship, but can impact other areas of your life such as work, school, friends, etc. A more stable and happy relationship allows partners to be more productive and effective in various areas of their life that are important to them. Depending on your presenting issues and goals, you can experience significant benefit from short-term couple therapy as indicated under question "How long are the sessions and how many sessions do I need?"