If you’ve been struggling with constant fighting, lack of intimacy or other relationship issues, you may be considering couples therapy – and you probably have a lot of questions. Can couples therapy save a relationship? Is marriage counseling a good idea? Can couples therapy make things worse?

This last question – about couples therapy making things worse – is a really common concern. At Couples Learn, we hear this fear from patients and potential patients all the time. And it’s really not surprising.

Facing your relationship issues head-on is a really vulnerable thing, especially if you’ve been keeping things bottled up until now. The idea of opening old wounds or bringing up past hurts can feel completely overwhelming. It may feel like talking openly about your issues will only hurt your relationship more.

But can therapy make things worse? Let’s explore this further.

When to Go to Couples Therapy

Before we dive into whether or not couples therapy can make relationship issues worse, it’s important to understand who couples therapy can help.

The short answer is…everyone. Seriously! Think of a therapist for your relationship like a mechanic for your car. 

If you wait until your car breaks down on the side of the road, it’s going to be a lot more difficult (and expensive!) to fix your problems. But if you bring your car in for regular tune-ups and see a mechanic the moment your check-engine light comes on, you’re going to have a much easier time saving your vehicle from further damage.

Do healthy couples go to couples therapy?

Yes, even healthy couples can benefit from couples therapy! In fact, it is often the couples who seek therapy proactively or early on in their relationship challenges that see the most success.

Choosing to work with a professional proactively before a big life change like having kids or moving across the country is a great way to make a healthy relationship even better.

A couples smiles and sits on the couch talking and holding hands

What are some signs you need couples therapy?

Every relationship is different, so it’s not always easy to know if couples therapy is right for you. But chances are if you’re reading a blog post about couples therapy effectiveness, then meeting with a therapist is a good idea.

Some of the most common signs you and your partner could benefit from couples therapy include:

  • You’re navigating a new phase in life (i.e. a move, marriage, kids, new job, etc)
  • You have more negative experiences than positive ones
  • You are constantly bickering and arguing
  • You avoid talking about your issues
  • You keep having the same argument again and again
  • You feel more like roommates instead of lovers
  • You’ve experienced infidelity (or one of you has considered it)

Even if you’re experiencing some of these issues, making the decision to go to couples therapy isn’t always an easy one. One partner may be all for it while the other partner doesn’t want to go. 

And even if both partners are on board, it’s normal to feel nervous about couples therapy making things worse.

Can Therapy Make Things Worse?

You’re not alone if you’ve wondered about couples therapy effectiveness. Can couples therapy save a relationship? Will couples therapy help? We get these questions all the time.

Perhaps one spouse is not very receptive to therapy. Maybe you’re concerned that certain topics may not be received very well or could lead to more conflict. 

Some couples worry that the only thing holding their relationship together is the fact that they are not talking about the bigger issues in their relationship. Other couples worry that therapy might lead them to break up instead of staying together.

But can therapy make things worse? Our team of couples therapists had a very simple answer to this question: no. Couples therapy will not make your relationship worse. This does not, however, mean that couples therapy won’t be hard.

Does couples therapy get worse before it gets better?

It is very common to feel like your relationship is getting worse when you first start therapy. For many couples, therapy is the first time they are truly talking openly about their issues. For others, diving into the ways that their childhood has impacted their adult relationships can be incredibly painful and eye-opening.

These experiences can initially exacerbate or bring more attention to the conflict in your relationship. You may find yourself actually discussing your issues more often. Or you might start to see everyday issues from a different perspective.

All of these experiences can make it feel like therapy is making things worse. But shining a light on your relationship problems is actually the only way to truly work through them. 

A couple sits in a couples therapy session wondering if couples therapy will make their relationship worse

What percentage of couples stay together after therapy?

It’s important to understand that not all relationships can be saved by therapy. But this doesn’t mean that couples therapy made them worse. 

The fact is, open communication is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. The process of couples therapy will help you get clarity on your relationship. 

If you both want to be together, therapy can help you get closer than ever before. While therapy isn’t guaranteed to help, it can be very effective. In fact, an analysis of emotionally-focused couples therapy (EFT) has found that 90% of couples significantly improve their relationship and 70-70% of couples no longer fit criteria for “relationship distress” after treatment.

The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, on the other hand, more than 75% of patients receiving marriage or couples counseling report an improvement in the couple relationship after therapy.

If you decide you don’t want to be together, therapy can help you get clarity around why the relationship isn’t working and find closure around the break-up.

Couples therapy is definitely vulnerable and scary at times but couples always feel better from having talked openly when the dust settles.

Couples Therapy Methods to Consider

If you’ve decided to move past the fear of couples therapy making things worse and try going to couples therapy with your partner, then you have a lot of options to consider.

Some of the most common types of couples therapy include:

Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy (EFT)

EFT is a short-term approach to couples therapy that typically lasts 15-20 sessions. It is an attached-focused couples therapy method and aims to help couples communicate and experience each other in healthier, more satisfying ways.

Imago Relationship Therapy

Imago Therapy is designed to help couples go from having an unconscious relationship to a conscious one. It is based on the idea that our unconscious mind is driven to heal childhood trauma through our romantic relationships, and that many conflicts with partners happen because of this drive.

Gottman Method

Gottman Method Couples Therapy is a general therapy that can help just about any type of couple. Couples who try Gottman method marriage counseling will start by learning how healthy couples communicate and treat each other. Then, they learn how to communicate more effectively with their partners through using specific communication techniques. 

A couple sits outside talking and laughing

What happens if your partner doesn’t want to go to couples therapy?

It is very common for couples to disagree about whether or not to try couples therapy. One partner may be desperate to attend therapy, while another is worried about therapy making things worse or just doesn’t believe that therapy will help.

If you’re in this situation, there are a couple of ways to handle it. 

You could start by seeing if your partner is willing to compromise. Ask if they will attend just one therapy session or a few therapy sessions to give it a try. If they don’t want to continue after those sessions, then you’ll accept it. Many times, taking that first step is the hardest part, so your partner may be happy to continue after those first few sessions.

Of course, you can’t force someone to go to therapy. So if your partner is unwilling to budge and not open to compromise, then it may be time to seek therapy on your own. Individual therapy for relationship issues can be very effective. While it’s not the same as couples therapy, individual therapy can help you shift the way you approach the challenges in your relationship and help you gain clarity about the future of your relationship.

And finally, if your partner refuses to engage in couples therapy and you’re still having challenges, it may be a sign that it’s time to leave the relationship.

Ready to Learn More About Couples Therapy?

If you’re ready to move past your fears about couples therapy making things worse in your relationship, then it’s time to reach out to a couples therapist.

While there are likely local couples therapy practices near you, online couples therapy is also an option. With online couples therapy, you can do therapy from the comfort of your own home or wherever you are.
Contact Couples Learn today to learn more about our online couples therapy services and book a free consult.