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What It's Like To Be A Couple's Therapist

Updated: Jul 13

Screaming. Arguing. Stalemate. Crying. Silence. Despair.


These are all words and images that may come to mind when thinking of a couple sitting on a couch in front of their therapist. If you’ve seen the show “Couples Therapy” on HBO Max, you may be drawn to the show as an observer, but think, wow, that looks like a mess.


Not every individual therapist is a couples therapist, and we all have our reasons for preferencing one type of work over the other. Therapists who do not prefer working with couples may find the work overwhelming when tracking two people in a session, especially when things are heated. This can really be the case unless you have an organizing structure to help the couple through.


While we therapists all have our lanes, for me, working with couples is a highly rewarding experience. There is something beautiful about two people who love each other and somehow cannot find a way to get along. Our expectations for someone with whom we spend most of our time and intimate moments can be too much to bear when not met, yet we want to fight as hard as we can to keep our love together. My job is to be an agent of reducing the space between the fantasy and reality of a relationship.


When couples first come to my office (or video screen, as the case may be), I first notice how sweet they are together and how brave it is to come to an office ready to bear who they are in an effort to get help. Sometimes couples are far apart on the couch and I wonder how it got to be so bad and why they didn’t think to seek help earlier. Either way, I always find it amusing that couples do not think they will fight exactly as they do at home, and yet without fail, the same cycle at home appears in front of me. The truth cannot hide.


One of the toughest aspects of working with a couple is that both assume their partner is the one with the problem and expect that all they had to do was come to couples therapy where I, the therapist, will finally let their partner know they are wrong. As one could imagine, this is a tricky spot to be in and requires me to level set with the couple on how sometimes both parties can contribute to the problem. Of course, sometimes one person really does contribute more than the other.


The best part of the job is when one and then the other partner can lay down their shield and become vulnerable. There are many times I’ve shed a few tears in watching this tender moment where both parties can see one another’s needs and provide the empathy that is so desperately sought. And then there are moments where I want to bonk one partner on the head as they cannot yet sit with the openness of the other.


In contrast to individual therapy, couples therapy is much more active and requires an almost orchestral level of coordination. One must keep in mind for both partners the individual needs, ways of expressing those needs, how the one partner is reacting while the other is talking and then find the right moment to help the two connect. There are times when this process happens facilely, and I experience a high and then there are times when the couple is just at a point where I might be feeling my way through the dark and I think about all I could have done better. There are highs and lows in couples therapy, just like relationships in real life, and as I know how important it is to be in love and be in peace, I hold the hope for all couples until they can hold it for themselves.

Couple arguing in front of therapist

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