Q. Dear Meredith,
My boyfriend and I have been dating on and off for a while now. A few years ago we decided to really make a go of things. From that point on, I felt we were 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. The other morning, though, we had a brief argument about work schedules, and he dropped the bomb: “I think we need to go to couples therapy.” Panic button hit.
We both see individual therapists, and our respective work on ourselves is a huge part of why things were going well for us. 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 are 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. 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 experience with couples therapy?
— Sucker Punched
A. I have a friend who believes that couples therapy pushes people in the direction they were headed anyway. It may speed the process, she says, but it can’t cause a breakup.
I do know of many relationships that got stronger because of counseling. In one case, a couple I know needed to learn how to fight without going too far. They left with all the right tools. Another needed to deal with hectic schedules. A trained third party helped them with their 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’re open to working on the relationship. Tell him you’ll go to therapy — because you want to know how to push his buttons in the right ways.
I would never go to couples therapy with someone I was dating, especially if there was such a big “on again, off again” history. I would just end it and move on.
This is not bad news. It’s good news, actually. You have (at least for now) a man who is comfortable talking about and going to therapy. He values what you two share enough to want to improve your relationship.
My husband and I went to therapy before we got married. Nothing major was wrong but I felt like it would be helpful to understand each other before committing for the rest of our lives. Highly recommend. Hold hands on the way in, while inside, and on the way out.
I’ve used couples therapy twice. Once it helped clarify the reasons to end a relationship. The second time it helped my boyfriend and me hear what the other was really saying. We figured out ways to address the issues and now, 12 years later, we’ve been married for a decade. It helps you get clarity, one way or the other.
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