Couple Therapy: What 3 Main Problems Can Therapy Help With?

According to John Gottman, an American psychotherapist and founder of The Gottman Institute, usually couples wait for six years before going to their first couple therapy. Approximately 50 percent of married couples, that were addressed to a therapist, solve relationship difficulties. To our opinion, there is no reason to wait 6 years, if the couple has problems, but would like to continue their relationship, it is strictly recommended to ask for qualified help. So 3 practicing couple therapists kindly agreed to contribute their wisdom about What 3 Main Problems Can Therapy Help With?

Cara Gardenswartz Ph.D.

[email protected]

Serving California Residents


Cara Gardenswartz, Ph.D. founded Group Therapy LA in 2001, a diversified practice treating individuals, couples, children and groups. In addition to managing a clinical practice, Cara actively consults with media as part of APA’s Media Referral Services. Cara completed her BA at University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate in Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles where she has taught abnormal Psychology, conducted empirical research and published in academic journals.

Couple Therapy: What 3 Main Problems Can Therapy Help With?

1.    Problems with Communication
Communication breakdowns can include, blaming each other, shutting off/avoiding conversations, arguing, using a loud tone, and lack of eye contact. Negative communication can leave one partner feeling depressed, insecure, and disregarded. Sometimes it’s hard for couples to know how to talk to each other, especially when 1 or both people feel like they are being misunderstood. A couple’s therapist can teach the couple how to effectively communicate from the heart and mind

2.    Emotional Distance
Emotional needs are met when the couple can provide each other with a sense of comfort, security, understanding, and love. Some couples after years of partnership/marriage stop engaging with each other. The couple can even feel like they are in a business relationship and push down their needs while feeling lonely. Couples therapy can be helpful in identifying what needs are most important and ways the couple can meet each other’s needs. Couples therapy can help the couple.

3.    Family of Origin Trauma
Traumatic experiences during adulthood further complicate and challenge couples’ capacities for creating a secure, intimate connection. Strategies that were adaptive in childhood (due to trauma) can contribute significantly to patterns that now increase interpersonal distress. Partners’ behaviors, even those intended to be comforting, may trigger traumatic memories and defensive reactions. Even though most couples therapy models do not consider the impact that unresolved traumas have on a couple/ In trauma-informed couples therapy couples learn about their partner’s history and his/her coping skills that ensued. And seeing how those coping skills. lead to current distress in their partnership. When couples see the bigger picture, they can see new ways to repair rifts, rebuild trust, and re-develop and strengthen communication.

Nicholas Balaisis, PhD, RP

Nicholas Balaisis (RP, Ph.D.) is a psychotherapist in private practice west of Toronto, Canada. He works with individuals and couples, specializing in anxiety/depression, relationship issues, and male shame and self-esteem. He is also a Lecturer in Media and Communication Arts at the University of Waterloo. He is also the author of a book-length study on Cuban film and media (Imperfect Aesthetics, 2016).

Couple Therapy: What 3 Main Problems Can Therapy Help With?

As an individual and couples therapist, a good deal of my time is helping people work on their various relationships: romantic, family, work colleagues, etc. Here are 3 common areas of concern for couples and how therapy can help them work on these common concerns:

1. Strengthening Communication

This is the number one complaint I read on intake forms: “We have poor communication skills,” or “we want to improve our communication as a couple.” The first thing that we do in therapy is to slow down and find out what this means exactly. After all, communication can mean a whole number of things and types of issues.

In many cases, a partner or spouse wants access to their mate’s head – they want to know what they want, need, or feel in the relationship. Sometimes this divides along gender lines, with men tending to be more in their own heads than women (but not always).

In therapy we try to slow this down, inquiring and trying to give language to what’s going on in the more withdrawn or quiet partner, and help the more concerned partner give language to their own feelings. Often, not having access to a partner’s emotional life (or interior thoughts) can make a partner feel disconnected, alone, and sometimes even doubtful about the couple’s bond. Giving language to both sides of this issue is one thing therapy can do to help bridge this communication gap. 

Another frequent communication concern is around conflict: “we always have the same fight,” or “we get stuck in conflict patterns.” Again, the role of therapy here is to isolate the nature of the conflict – what are the familiar triggers? Then, we look for historical patterns or other times you felt that way – was this the way that you fought with mom or dad? Once we identify some of these, we can begin to work on communicating the feelings underneath and work on strategies for repair. 

Sometimes therapy can provide quick and ready strategies for ongoing conflict and create “a-ha” moments. i.e. “I never realized how critical your parents were, and that’s why you respond so strongly to my criticisms like not washing the dishes!” In other cases, with strong attachment injuries, it can take a long time to work on the triggers and come up with self-soothing or self-regulating strategies. This leads us to complaint number 2….

2. Managing Difficult Emotions

Therapy is by nature an emotional experience, and this is particularly true in couples therapy. One of the first things we try to work on together in therapy is how to manage difficult emotions, especially ones directed at your partner. There are a number of pitfalls in a relationship surrounding emotionally-laden attacks like name calling, contempt or resentment, and mean-spirited comments. These weaponized emotions can doom a relationship if left unchecked. 

A good couples therapist will help you and your partner find ways to channel those negative feelings back to the therapist instead of the partner, a technique that helps the individual own and name the feelings apart from their partner. A therapist will also help couples develop self-soothing or regulating techniques that are designed to anticipate and track emotional cycles and funnel them into other, usually physical, activities that help to short circuit negative conflicts and patterns. 

The simple and well-used timeout technique is one that I reach to again and again in prompting partners to manage their own emotions and refrain from dumping unnecessary excess onto their spouse. Sure, any relationship needs to be able to tolerate a degree of emotional discomfort and even conflict, but limiting the vicious and damaging emotional weapons is key to long-term relationship success. Timeouts lead us into a third area therapy can help with… 

3. Establishing Better Boundaries

Timeouts are one example of a technique designed to help couples form stronger boundaries, both between each other and with themselves. A very frequent issue faced in relationships is the dumping or transferring of issues or emotions from one part of life into the relationship. 

This happens all the time and in all areas of life – work, family, kids, social media, etc. You might have a stressful day at work coming up and you wake up keyed and anxious, and your partner ends up on the receiving end when he or she doesn’t get ready quick enough or hadn’t done the laundry the night before. In these cases, private individual anxieties are unconsciously transferred onto the partner, usually creating a surprised and equally frustrated response. 

In therapy, what we try to work on is tracking and naming these experiences and finding ways to either contain them better on our own or find ways to communicate them to our partner in a way that includes them in our management (sometimes called co-regulation) rather than funneling all the negative and stressful energy directly to them without giving them the background context.

This is all boundary work and usually takes a lot of time to master. The payoffs are really high, however, in that it can help create a unified front as a couple, take some of the private load off of the stressed partner, and minimize resentment and interpersonal confusion over the long term. 

Dr. Tasha Seiter, MS, PhD, MFTC

phone:  (970) 335-9190

email:  [email protected]


Tasha Seiter, MS, MFTC, Ph.D. Candidate, owns a therapy private practice providing online therapy to couples, individuals, and families throughout the state of Colorado.

Couple Therapy: What 3 Main Problems Can Therapy Help With?

Couples therapy helps with patterns. Patterns in relationships can look like

1. Pursue-withdraw (where one partner attacks and the other shuts down)

2. Attack-attack (where both partners criticize or blame the other and the conflict escalates quickly)

3. Withdraw-withdraw (where both partners avoid conflict and there is a lack of issues being resolved and a lack of intimacy).

Couples therapy can help break these cycles of interaction by helping partners perceive behaviors in a different way and learn new ways of relating that involve vulnerability rather than patterns of protection that get you caught in your pattern.


How Do I Help My Child Who Is Struggling in a Divorce?

What are the Dos and Don’ts of Talking with a Preschooler about Death?

What are the 3 Main Advantages and Disadvantages of Early Childhood Education?

Why has Friendship with Benefits become popular nowadays?

5 Early Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship


What are 4 Habits of ALL Successful Relationships?

How to Build a Healthy Relationship Between a Man and a Woman with Science

Apparently, This Is Why Relationships Are Hard Nowadays – Neurobiological Reflexes

Long-Distance Relationships – Real Things You Should Know to Make Them Work

3 Critical Skills You Must Learn For Healthy Romantic Relationships – Joanne Davila, PhD

10 Signs That Will Make You Look at Your Husband in a New Way

500 Awesome Relationship Quotes to Express Your Feelings

How To Break The Cycle Of Unhappy Relationship And Select The Right One

What Causes Two People To Fall In Love With Science

Submit a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *