What Is Couples Therapy?

Couples therapy encompasses everything from premarital counseling to coping with divorce. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, couples therapy is a primary resource for those who are facing difficulties in their relationship that they just can’t manage or resolve on their own.

The initial goal of couples counseling, for most, is to solve problems and lighten tensions while breaking old behavior patterns within the relationship; sometimes this works and sometimes it does not. In the case of the latter, a trained therapist can help angry, resentful, and sad couples to gain closure and end their relationships in a more respectful and stable way. Those who are fortunate enough to maintain a lasting relationship can learn new ways to communicate their feelings to one another and how to see things from their partner’s point of view. A common barrier for many couples is merely not feeling heard. For heterosexual couples, this can be a common issue because men and women often convey their feelings in different ways wherein the opposite gender doesn’t interpret what is being said the way it is meant.

According to the Mayo Clinic, premarital counseling — a good base for what couple’s counseling entails — covers a wide range of topics that should ideally be ironed out and agreed upon prior to applying for a marriage license, such as:
  • Money
  • Religious and moral beliefs
  • Roles in the marriage
  • Communication
  • Parenting and childrearing methods
  • Quality time together
  • Anger management practices
  • Familial relationships outside the marriage
  • Affection and sex
  • How you’ll make decisions together

For many, these issues come up time and time again throughout marriage. When you add problems like substance abuse or mental health disorders to the mix, such problems can become even more troublesome. Drug and alcohol abusers often make mistakes while under the influence that they wouldn’t normally make if they were clean and sober. Sometimes, those poor decisions make their loved ones question their morals and integrity and cause them to lose trust in their partner.

Family relationships deteriorate in the presence of addictions, according to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics. Furthermore, people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol often do not manage their feelings well; this can make them lash out when under stress, distance themselves from intimate encounters with their partners and stop communicating effectively. Many typical behaviors that are consequent of addictions result in the same unhappy ending — broken trust. When trust is removed from a relationship, it can take a serious amount of therapy and time to heal, and the wound will never close if the bad behavior doesn’t stop.

Of course, in many cases, when one person is engaged in substance abuse, their partner is as well — doubling the problem. Sometimes couples who abuse drugs or alcohol together will temporarily feel closer than ever, as though the high experience is something they share only between the two of them, but the depressing feelings that come from the crash they feel as the drug wears off is nothing to be desired. The highs and lows of substance abuse contribute to a similar rollercoaster effect in relationships, ebbing from elation to anger and sometimes, even violence.

Who Needs It?

Initially, the thought of couple’s therapy might cause one to imagine the argumentative married couple trying to settle a dispute while the psychotherapist sits to the side attempting to mediate. While this may be the case for some, people enter into couple’s therapy for a variety of reasons. Sometimes couples seek counseling as a preemptive measure, such as in the case of premarital counseling — a process that several religious officiants still insist upon prior to agreeing to preside over a marriage ceremony. Premarital counseling has largely fallen by the wayside over the years and that could be perhaps partially to blame for some of the 2.4 million marriages that ended via divorce in 2012 in America, per Bloomberg.

If you’re about to tie the knot, a detour to a qualified therapist’s office prior to your trip to the chapel or courthouse might serve you quite well. If you’re already married or facing hardships in a relationship, including infidelity and drug addiction, a good couple’s counselor might be just what you need.

Furthermore, when you’re dealing with substance abuse, it wreaks havoc on everyone involved, not just the addict. If you’re combatting your own addiction, do your best to have compassion for your partner and understand that therapy, which is entirely separate from your addiction treatment, may be necessary to tend to the wounds of your relationship. Unfortunately, when drug or alcohol abuse enters our lives, it can have some pretty damaging and long-lasting, if not permanent, effects.

Communication often deteriorates between a couple whenever one or both parties are abusing illicit substances. Not only do these couples tend to stop talking to one another in general, often falling into depression, but when they do talk, they’re not discussing the right things. In fact, one New York Times article reported that couples wait an average of six years — of unhappiness, that is — before they even try couples therapy. That’s a long time to wait, and it just gives your problems time to fester and take over until your relationship is too damaged and can’t be saved. Psychology Today reported on one study stating that only a quarter of divorcing couples claimed to have sought therapy in an effort to better their marriage.

When under the influence of depressant drugs and alcohol alike, addicts can become very emotional and experience wild mood swings, from sadness and despair one minute to rage the next. Drug and alcohol addicts are not emotionally stable people and that renders them unable to carry on healthy relationships. For some, there is no bouncing back from the damage that an addiction causes to their marriage or relationship. For this reason, some couples attend therapy together merely to figure out how to end things in a healthy way and start healing, especially when there are children involved in the mix.

If you are a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence, you should seek the immediate help of a skilled professional who can help to guide you in seeking safer measures while your problems are worked out. Violence is more common in families where mental illness is present, as is substance abuse. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 37 percent of alcoholics and 53 percent of drug addicts have one or more serious mental illnesses. In addition, violent behavior was present at least once in a year’s time among 18 percent of mentally ill non-substance abusers, per one Harvard Health Publications study, and among 31 percent of mentally ill individuals who also had substance use disorders.

What Is Family Therapy?

According to the Mayo Clinic, family therapy is most commonly sought for the resolution of problems and betterment of communication between family members. Usually, the professional you choose to oversee your family’s therapy needs will teach family members how to get through troublesome times together, as a family group, and avoid branching off from one another or placing blame. Likewise, family members will learn to accept responsibility and be held accountable for their actions without getting defensive. Acting together as a cohesive unit is vital to the success of recovering a family member from addiction.

Who Needs It and Why?

Many of the same issues that can plague couples can hinder families. Everything from the addition of a new baby, infertility, and career stressors to step-parentage and disability can impact how everyone gets along inside the family home, according to Psych Central. Moreover, many of those same stressors can increase the likelihood of someone turning to substance misuse or abuse to cope. Having children doesn’t diminish the fact that you’re still a couple. The same substance addicts who face trouble as a couple will generally have trouble in other sects of life, such as parenting. The 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health attests to 8.3 million children having lived with a parent in the previous year that was dependent upon or abusing drugs and/or alcohol.

Statistics like these point out the vast likelihood of neglect and abuse at the hands of addicted parents. Unfortunately, this type of behavior around children often leads to rearing kids that turn out much like their parents. Family therapy can aid in breaking that cycle. Just because you’re struggling with drug and/or alcohol abuse doesn’t mean your child must suffer from the same fate, but early intervention for your own problems is key, in conjunction with family counseling.

A lot of the dysfunction that stems from addiction can rip a family apart. Grandparents may worry for their grandchildren if their adult sons or daughters are using drugs or abusing alcohol. Likewise, many actually go to the lengths of raising their grandchildren themselves to remove them from the unstable environment that the addicted parents create.

Just as a wife may have difficulty trusting her husband again after an indiscretion, children struggle to trust their parents when they’ve repeatedly disappointed or otherwise failed them in some way, especially when it comes to making children feel safe and secure.

Substance abuse in the home can lead to anxiety problems in children, both in their formative and adulthood years. A University of Calgary, Alberta study measured 40 percent of patients in an outpatient anxiety disorder treatment program as being adult children of alcoholics.

What’s It Like?

To preface, there are many people available for family counseling, but your choice of whom to accept help from should be appropriately aligned with the level of treatment you need. For example, a church pastor may very well be able to oversee premarital counseling or even assist you in struggles you may be having as a couple with life changes like parenting. However, serious issues, such as physical, emotional or verbal abuse, drug or alcohol misuse, and mental health disorders, need to be overseen with the care and expertise that a clinical social worker or licensed psychotherapist offers.

The typical family therapy session occurs either in the office of a therapist or counselor, or at the family’s home. In some cases, a separate facility may be used instead of a home when all family members are not participating. During the average family therapy session, one can expect a group therapy-like environment that feels slightly more intimate because you already know everyone there. Usually, everyone is given a turn to speak their mind about familial issues or recent events that may have upset them. This is an important part of therapy as it not only allows the release of negative emotions, but it also supports the idea that everyone in the family should have a voice and likewise, be heard. It also promotes open lines of communication.

A Saving Grace

Therapy, whether alone, with your spouse or significant other, or with your entire family, is a very individualized process. Not everyone needs long-term help. Some issues can be worked out, and therapy’s duration can be adjusted accordingly. Of course, some couples and families attend therapy for years, and it can truly be a saving grace for them.


According to a survey by the Connecticut division of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, more than 98 percent of couples questioned reported positive experiences with good or excellent ratings for the therapy they received. In addition, more than 97 percent claimed to have gotten the help they were in need of, and 93 percent seemed to be better prepared to deal with future problems having learned what they did in therapy.

WebMD notes that family therapy might not be as successful if all family members are not willing to participate. This is especially true for those who are at the heart of the problems in the family. Case in point, family therapy can certainly help the family members of a substance user to cope with their loved one’s addiction and the effects of it, but it can go a lot further if the addict is involved too. Nonetheless, a research review by the Georgia Association for Marriage and Family Therapy states that just 36 percent of family therapy participants were in need of more treatment when following up six weeks to three years later.

Make the Call

Substance abuse and addiction do not have to ruin everything you’ve worked so hard for. Regardless of what your family and relationship problems were caused by, we can help you address addiction and mental health issues simultaneously. We know that treating the whole person can help set them up for lasting recovery and healthy relationships. For more information on our treatment program, contact us at Black Bear Lodge at 706-914-2327 today to talk with one of our admissions coordinators. We can help.