It’s Valentine’s Day, and we’ve got relationships on the brain here at Stella Nova! So today we’re talking about one of the most powerful tools in the relationship health toolbox — couples counseling. 

Mainstream culture has seen stigma around therapy fade significantly in recent years. My parents’ generation talked about therapy in shame-filled whispers. Today, Gen Z shares their insights from therapy on TikTok

Unfortunately, the stigma around couples counseling has remained persistent. For most of us, the only exposure we’ve had to couples therapy is what we see on TV — which is created for drama and entertainment, not for accuracy. TV couples frequently seem to loathe each other. Their therapists are often ineffectual. If the relationship problems are resolved, it’s typically the result of a plot point rather than the slower, more intentional work of therapy. 

So, what is couples therapy like in the real world? Let’s break down some myths and realities.

Breaking Down Couples Counseling Myths and Realities

Myth: Couples Therapy is Only for Couples in Crisis

This is one of the big myths that stops people from getting relationship support when they need it. 

Many people see couples therapy as a last ditch effort for a couple in crisis to avoid breaking up. In this framework, people seek therapy after a big, traumatic event like finding out about a betrayal. Or they might finally reach out after years of bitter fighting and resentment. 

Of course, if your relationship is having a crisis, couples therapy can certainly be helpful. But just like with individual therapy, addressing issues early on helps prevent problems from getting to a crisis point.

Photo of a couple making cooking together in their kitchen. One partner is preparing food while the other embraces him from behind.

In reality, couples come to therapy for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes, they may be looking to deepen their intimacy or improve their sex lives. Other times, they may be working to get out of a negative pattern in their communication. Or perhaps address how cultural differences are creating conflict in their relationship. And many couples are seeking support with navigating dynamics with their extended families, or working to coparent more effectively.

Myth: Couples Counseling is Only for Married Couples

Here in California, many people who offer therapy for couples are licensed as Marriage and Family Therapists, which can perpetuate this myth. But in reality, counseling can be a tool for couples in many stages in their relationship. And this absolutely includes people for whom marriage is never on the table.

One benefit of therapy for non-married couples can be support in considering or preparing for a deeper level of commitment. Premarital counseling for couples after an engagement is probably the best known way we do that. But couples may also benefit from therapy to decide whether marriage is right for them or if they want to become parents together. Couples who are preparing to move in together can use couples therapy to navigate that transition, and work through questions about money or division of housework. 

Couples counseling can also be for partners exploring non-traditional relationship structures like polyamory or an open relationship. A therapist can help both parties identify and communicate their needs with each other in a healthy way. They can also provide support when conflict or challenging emotions arise. Some counselors even specialize in working with multiple members of a polycule, bringing in more than two partners into session together.

A couple discussing an issue in couples counseling with frustrated, animated expressions. A couples therapist listens in the background.

Myth: Our Couples Therapist Will be our Relationship Referee

Sometimes people come into couples therapy with the hope that their therapist will hear them out about a conflict and take sides. 

And as satisfying as it might be to have a professional tell your partner you’re right and they’re wrong, that’s not how couples therapy works. A good couples counselor isn’t there to settle your arguments. Rather, their job is to help you understand each others’ perspectives, communicate effectively, and develop skills to take care of the relationship together even when you’re in conflict.

In the short term, that might feel frustrating. But in the long run, you’ll benefit from the skills you’re building to navigate challenges together along the way.

Myth: Breakups Happen When Couples Counseling Fails

If you’re coming into therapy to improve or even save your relationship, this may seem counterintuitive. But breakups don’t always mean that couples therapy has failed. Sometimes, counseling may help to illuminate that a couple’s needs and values have moved apart. Recognizing when it’s time to end a relationship that may be unhealthy or not meeting your needs can be a difficult, but positive, outcome of therapy.

If it is time to end your relationship, a counselor can help you work through that from a place of respect and compassion. If children are involved, they can help you with the transition from partners to coparents. 

A couples therapist doesn’t have an agenda for your relationship. They’re there to support you to meet your goals and needs, whether that’s healing a relationship together, or letting a relationship go.

Still wondering what’s fact vs. fiction?

If you’re considering couples counseling and still have questions about what to expect, we can help. Reach out to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a team member today. We’ll chat about your hopes, goals, and questions, and match you with a great-fit therapist for you and your partner.

Stella Nova offers support for couples of all genders and backgrounds, with services online throughout California. We’re an LGBTQ+ affirming practice, and our therapists work with couples of diverse cultures and faiths, at all stages of their relationship.

Set Up A Free 20-Minute Phone Consultation to Connect with a Couples Therapist Today

A queer couple relaxes in bed together. One is drinking a cup of coffee, while the other is using their laptop.

About the Author

Maya Borgueta, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder of Stella Nova Psychology. Her practice offers both individual and couples therapy for people looking to heal negative patterns in their relationship, improve their communication skills, and build greater intimacy.

Stella Nova offers services online throughout California and in-person in San Francisco.