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Couples Therapy Has a Bad Reputation, and I Want to Change It

How my personal experience has made me an advocate for couples counseling.

When you hear someone attends couples therapy, what’s your first reaction?

My fiancé and I have been together for nearly eight wonderful, fulfilling years. We rarely fight (and when we do, it never gets dirty), make an incredible team (if I do say so myself!), and if you’ve met us, you know we’re absolutely crazy about each other. We’ve also routinely gone to couples therapy for the past year and a half.

Let me get this out of the way: I completely acknowledge that I’m privileged to be able to attend any therapy at all. If it isn’t covered under insurance, counseling is extremely expensive, inaccessible to most, and a true luxury. Beyond that, I was fortunate enough to come from a family that innately believes in it: Both of my parents are big proponents of therapy and taught me from a young age that there’s no shame in choosing to seek professional help for anything, from interpersonal relationships to career advice. 

I don’t know when the stigma around couples therapy began, but I can tell you it’s certainly as prevalent as ever. There’s a distinct reaction I get when revealing to friends and family that Justin and I regularly see a therapist together: Wide eyes, nervous stiffening, and a tension that’s so thick I can cut it with a knife. Without knowing it, nearly everyone I’ve told basically communicates “You must be on the rocks” without saying a word.

Initially, we sought out a therapist because we were dealing with specific issues–ones that we wanted to sort through before taking the next, massive step in our relationship: our engagement. 

So I did what any millennial would do: I Googled "couples therapist Los Angeles," read reviews, and thought I'd roll the dice and just hope for the best. But through my research, I discovered that sessions go for around $150-$250 per hour per couple, and we weren't willing to spend that kind of money on a "maybe."

I didn't really know where else to start. After a conversation with my mom, she suggested that we ask her therapist for a recommendation based on our specific circumstance (young, long-term couple with some minor disputes they wanted to work through), and he delivered. He gave us the name of a woman based a mile from our house, and after reviewing her website, I immediately shot her an email. Based on what I read and my correspondence with her, my gut told me she would be a good fit for us (and I trust my instincts!), so I scheduled our first session. (You can also ask to set up a preliminary call to see if you vibe–it's not guaranteed but worth a shot!)

Our first therapy session was, as anyone who has attended can attest, slightly uncomfortable and awkward. It felt inevitable–how were we expected to bring her up-to-date on so many years of disputes, nuances, and history? But within that first hour, we broke through a few initial barriers and opened up in ways we simply couldn't when it was just the two of us. Having an impartial and unbiased moderator helped lead our conversations down a productive, rather than hostile, path. And then we went back for our second "real" session.

We wanted to start with something small but still substantial. Our first hurdle was determining where we’d spend the holidays (something I know many couples struggle with). It wasn’t anything grave enough to threaten our future together, but we knew our impending engagement would change things, especially our respective family’s expectations around that sacred time of year. We cried, we negotiated, we hit standstills, but in the end, we found a compromise that both of us could live with and that left us feeling stronger as a team.

Our therapist has taken the time to get to know us as individuals and as a couple. She's asked tough, reflective questions that we’d never taken the time to ask each other. She's taught us that our words have weight, and we should be careful with them. She's validated each of us when we needed it and saw that we had built a pretty strong foundation together that just had a few cracks we hadn’t tended to.

We now recognize patterns and have learned how to adjust our expectations or actions to avoid future conflict. We've been given tools and techniques to connect more deeply, understand each other more fluently, and care for the other more fittingly. Our communication has improved, our arguments are more respectful, and I feel more heard and appreciated than I ever have.

I know I was lucky. After many, many conversations with friends and family members in relationships, I’ve heard about the partners who are unwilling to put aside their ego (and fear) to attend therapy. Justin was more than willing to be vulnerable and share our intimate lives with a stranger to better us as a unit. It not only made me love him more, but also validated that he’s the kind of partner who wants to constantly strengthen our relationship and give it everything he’s got. It only made me more sure that I want to marry him.

We had no idea that our time in therapy would become something we looked forward to every other week. I'm all for self-improvement of any kind, but taking an hour to work on my relationship with Justin feels like more than that. It feels like an investment in our future and a promise that we'll continue to put in the work to make each other happy.

A few months ago, my sister jokingly asked if our therapist would be getting an invite to our wedding. Without missing a beat, and completely earnestly, I responded that I couldn't imagine getting married without her there, as she's played such an essential role in our relationship the past year and a half. But the more we thought and talked about it, the more Justin and I realized that having her attend as a guest didn't feel quite right. We decided she would make the ultimate officiant: Who knows us (the uncensored, truth-spitting, no holds barred version of us) better than the woman helping us navigate coupledom? She's seen us through highs and lows and understands our commitment to each other. So we decided to ask her, and in case you were wondering... she said yes. 

I’m unashamed to say that I’m an advocate for any kind of therapy, but particularly when it comes to couples. If it’s something you’re able to look into and is feasible for you and your partner, I couldn’t recommend it more. I know it's not cheap–and it's frustrating that insurers aren't required to cover mental health benefits. If you do have health insurance, it's absolutely worth checking the description of your benefits to see if it includes information on behavioral health services or coverage for mental health (and if you aren't sure, ask an HR representative or contact your insurance company to see the extent of their coverage!). If your insurance does cover it, be sure you find a therapist who's in your network, as many choose not to accept insurance. If you need more resources to better understand your situation, I'd recommend starting here.

I know one blog post won’t shatter the stigma, but I’m hoping that my vulnerability can chip away at that misguided sentiment. I’m an open book – if you’re curious or want to learn more about my experience, I would love to hear from you in the comments or my DMs. x

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