As someone who sees many first responder couples in therapy, I will tell you firsthand that these are very brave souls. In addition to the stigma surrounding counseling in general, marital (aka couples) counseling carries its own set of myths that often keep couples from coming in until they are in crisis mode, or prevent them from seeking help altogether. Below, I will discuss and bust the five myths that I most commonly hear surrounding marital counseling.
“If I have to work on the relationship, I am with the wrong person.”
Couples often think back on the “honeymoon phase” of their relationship, when things felt easy and smooth. However, as issues begin to crop up, they often start to wonder if they are truly compatible. What I tell the couples who struggle with this dilemma is that relationships take work. Relationships require a daily commitment to your partner. In fact, the couples who report the most relational satisfaction are also those who work the hardest. Just think back to that initial honeymoon period and how much you both did in order to “woo” the other. While it is certainly unlikely that you will keep all of the elements of mystery in a long-term committed relationship, it is important to focus on some of those elements of courtship throughout the relationship.
“Happy couples shouldn’t go to counseling.”
This myth is akin to avoiding preventative medical care because you feel fine. Sadly, it leads many couples to wait until they are in crisis mode, rather than taking preemptive steps. Now, much more work will need to be done to deal with longstanding issues that likely could have been avoided if addressed early on. (This is also the rationale behind premarital counseling.) I believe (and yes, I am biased!) that every couple could benefit from couples therapy, and I love seeing couples who take the preventative approach.
“More talking won’t fix anything.”
These words are more likely to come out of the mouth of the first responder than their spouse. Many couples feel like they have tried talking out their issues over and over again, and yet nothing seems to change. They may wonder how talking about these same things in couples therapy is going to be different. The metaphor I like to use here is one of baking a cake. You may have all of the ingredients and all of the baking tools you need, but no matter how you put the ingredients together and no matter how many times you try, you will likely be unable to bake the cake you want without the right recipe. The couples therapist’s job is to help you identify the recipe you need to make it work. And the good news is, after enough practice you won’t need the help of the therapist at all!
“The therapist is going to take sides.”
The caveat here is that, unfortunately, some therapists do this out of inexperience, and some are actually trained to do so! On the other hand, therapists who, like me, are trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), an evidence-based gold standard of couples therapy, believe that the focus is the relationship. EFT therapists do not take sides, and they view the relationship as a dance that requires both people to do the work. Therefore, the goal is never to blame one spouse or the other, but rather to see how both people in the relationship have assumed responsibility in learning new “dance steps.” Remember, you are the consumer! Many people don’t know that you can question your therapist as much as you’d like about their approach. If it does not feel like a good fit for you, you can always find another provider. Not all therapists are created equal, and it’s OK to be choosy!
“It is impossible to repair trust after an affair.”
Unfortunately, popular culture has promoted this myth with adages such as “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” In addition, the pain brought by this relational injury leaves couples in such despair that they often believe there are no other options. Years of research in this area, as well as my personal experience of working with couples after an affair, say otherwise. It is indeed possible to repair, rebuild and, in fact, come out with a stronger relationship, if both people are committed to doing the work.
Dr. Mariya Dvoskina is a psychologist in Colorado with Nicoletti-Flater Associates, where the specialization is in the fields of police and public safety psychology, crisis intervention, trauma recovery and violence prevention.