Relationship Counseling Is Not the Sign of an Impending Breakup

Relationship Counseling Is Not the Sign of an Impending Breakup

When the words “marriage,” “family,” and “therapy” all come up in the same sentence, it’s often assumed that things within that particular relationship aren’t great. Broken beyond repair. Doomed. But this is not the case. In fact, seeking support for a relationship through marriage and family therapy (also often called couples therapy) shows your commitment to improving interpersonal dynamics in many ways.

Seeing a therapist to identify problematic behaviors and seek solutions, both individually and interpersonally, can be incredibly helpful — and despite the name, marriage and family therapy isn’t just for married couples. Any couple in a romantic relationship can benefit, as can people in families who have other interpersonal dynamics.

If you've been struggling to find symbiosis with your partner (or partners), spouse, or family member, this form of therapy might be exactly the means of healing you have been looking for. Below, learn what it’s all about, its methodology, and why it is not a sign a relationship or family is failing.

Marriage and family therapy, or MFT, is a form of psychotherapy. It addresses the behaviors of all members of a particular family or relationship, though it’s most commonly employed by couples. This therapy modality is a solution-focused approach that creates specific, attainable therapeutic goals, including improving communication, working through intimacy issues, and more. Marriage and family therapists typically practice short-term therapy, or about 12 sessions on average.

Marriage and family therapists are recognized as a “core” mental health profession alongside psychology, psychiatry, and social work, and those who practice have completed graduate or postgraduate programs. As of last year, there were around 48,000 marriage family therapists currently practicing in the United States.

According to John Carroll, a therapist at the Institute for Human Identity in New York City, this particular treatment doesn’t adhere to the old psychotherapy cliché in which a practitioner says, “Lie on a couch and tell me how that makes you feel.” Rather, this form of therapy is practiced in a few ways. When people in a relationship see a therapist, they often see their therapist together, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, they’ll attend individual sessions, or if it’s a group of people (like in a family, or polyamorous relationship), two or more people may break off into smaller sessions to talk about interpersonal dynamics.

“While traditional therapy focuses more on the individual, MFT explores how an individual’s behavior affects both the individual and their relationship as part of a couple or family,” says Carroll. “In MFT, the unit of treatment is not just the individual, even if only a single person is in the therapy session, treatment is focused on the set of relationships in which the person is embedded.”

“The methodology behind MFT is that regardless of whether a problem appears to be within an individual — intrapersonal — or within a relationship — interpersonal, getting other members involved in the therapeutic process will result in more effective, sustained solutions,” Carroll explains. So, both intrapersonal and interpersonal issues are talked about through the lens of how they may affect the dynamic of the relationship. The therapist is there to advocate for the relationship unit, rather than for one individual versus another.

Nope. While issues may be present in a relationship or family that prompt people to seek support in the first place, it does not mean these issues cannot be worked through or solved. “Many people come to therapy with an acute issue to work on. However, the tools learned in couples therapy can be used preventatively and are applicable in many other areas of life,” says Carroll.

Unlike math or grammar, relationship skills aren’t something we’re taught in school. Carroll points out that our most important relational tools — like active listening, conflict resolution, vulnerability, and intimacy — are things that we learn (or don’t learn) from our parents and families of origin.

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