How to Get the Most Out of Couples Therapy: The Difference Between Those That Succeed And Those That Don’t

by | Last updated Feb 13, 2024

As a couple’s therapist in New York City, I’ve seen firsthand that the success of couples therapy largely depends on the commitment and effort both partners are willing to put into the process. While some couples achieve remarkable transformations, others struggle due to various challenges and limitations. Working with a trained therapist to address relationship issues and improve communication and intimacy is what couples therapy is all about. The goal is to help couples understand each other better, resolve conflicts, and create a stronger, healthier relationship. However, not all couples who seek therapy achieve these results. Some couples make significant progress and enjoy long-term benefits, while others do not.

It is natural to be skeptical of therapy for your relationship if you are considering it. In this article, we will look at why some couples succeed in therapy while others do not, as well as what you can do to get the most out of couples therapy. By the end, you should have a better understanding of how to make the most of your couples therapy experience.

Factors that Contribute to Successful Couples Therapy

While each couple’s therapy experience is unique, research has shown that certain factors are consistently associated with positive outcomes. Understanding these factors can help you and your partner go into therapy knowing what to expect and how to get the most out of your experience.

Willingness of Both Partners to Participate Fully

The success of relationship therapy often hinges on the willingness of both partners to participate fully. This commitment to therapy is more than just showing up for sessions. While showing up is a great start and often one of the hardest steps to take, it will only take the couple so far.

For couples counseling to be truly effective, both individuals must be open to self-reflection, honest communication, emotional validation, and the vulnerability that comes with sharing and addressing personal and shared concerns. Couples will need to work diligently to practice better listening skills using techniques like active listening and reflective listening, both to the therapist and to each other, with an attitude of understanding and empathy.

The willingness to participate also means that both partners are prepared to make changes and compromises. It requires acknowledging that while relationship counseling can provide guidance and tools, the real work happens in the daily interactions and choices made outside the therapy room. Both individuals need to actively apply what they learn in therapy to their relationship, which often entails stepping out of comfort zones and breaking old patterns.

In essence, successful couples counseling is a collaborative effort. It’s a journey where both partners are equally invested in not just resolving conflicts or overcoming issues, but also in the growth and evolution of their relationship. When both partners are fully engaged and committed to this journey, couples therapy has the potential to foster profound and lasting positive changes.”

Compatibility between Therapist and Couple

The compatibility of the therapist and the couple is another significant aspect in successful therapy. Because not all therapists have the same approach or style, it is important to find a therapist who is the right fit for your relationship. The therapist should be able to build trust and rapport with both partners in the relationship.

It is also imperative to match the therapist’s style to the needs of the relationship. For example, if the couple is looking for a therapist to help them with communication challenges, they should find a therapist with experience in this area who uses evidence-based strategies to strengthen communications. Confidence in the therapist’s abilities is also essential for success, as couples must feel confident that their therapist can help them achieve their goals.

The Nature of the Relationship

Finally, the nature of the relationship itself is an important factor in successful therapy. Identifying underlying issues, setting individual and couple goals, and balancing individual and couple needs are all crucial for success. Therapy can help couples identify patterns of behavior that may be contributing to conflicts, and work towards breaking those patterns and creating healthier ways of relating to each other. Understanding and respecting each other’s needs and goals is also crucial for success, as it helps to build a stronger, more resilient relationship. With the right mindset and a willingness to heal and improve, most couples can overcome the challenges of couples therapy and experience significant growth and healing in their relationship. While understanding the process of therapy can be daunting for many couples, a commitment to working collaboratively with the therapist can lead to positive outcomes and a stronger, more satisfying relationship.

Challenges to Successful Couples Therapy

While couples therapy can be highly effective, there are also challenges that couples may face in their journey towards improving their relationship. It’s important to be aware of these challenges so that you can prepare for them and address them as they arise.

Resistance to Change

One of the biggest challenges in therapy is resistance to change. Change can be difficult and uncomfortable, especially when it involves breaking old patterns of behavior and creating new ones. Fear of the unknown and the need for consistency can also make it difficult to embrace change. In therapy, couples may need to explore new ways of communicating, problem-solving, and relating to each other, which can be challenging and require effort and patience.

External Stressors

Another challenge that couples may face in therapy is external stressors, such as financial difficulties, family conflicts, and work-related stress. These stressors can make it difficult to focus on therapy goals and may even exacerbate existing relationship issues. In therapy, couples may need to address these external stressors and develop strategies for coping with them in a way that supports their relationship goals.

Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse can also be a challenge to successful therapy. These issues can impact the relationship and make it difficult to engage fully in therapy. In some cases, couples may need to address individual mental health issues before they can effectively address relationship issues. In other cases, therapy can be a helpful tool in managing and improving mental health symptoms and supporting overall relationship health.

It’s important to remember that challenges in therapy are normal and expected. It’s not uncommon for couples to experience setbacks or for progress to be slower than expected. What’s important is to remain committed to the process and to work with your therapist to find solutions to challenges as they arise.

How To Get The Most Out Of Couples Therapy

While there are challenges to successful couples therapy, there are also things you can do to increase your chances of achieving your therapy goals. Here are some tips for making the most of your therapy experience:

Prioritizing Therapy

Make couples counseling a priority in your life by scheduling regular sessions, sticking to therapy goals, and being open and communicative with your couples therapist. Consider therapy a valuable investment in your relationship and commit to attending sessions regularly.

Maintaining Positivity

Celebrate progress, find joy in your relationship, and avoid negative behaviors that can undermine progress in therapy. Focus on what is working and what you appreciate about your partner and your relationship.

Being Open-Minded

Be open to trying new approaches and considering your therapist’s perspective. Allow room for mistakes and view them as opportunities for growth and learning.

Remember that therapy is a process and that progress can take time. Be patient with yourselves and with each other, and continue to work towards your goals together. By prioritizing therapy, maintaining positivity, and being open-minded, you can increase your chances of success in couples therapy.


Couples therapy can be an extremely beneficial tool for improving communication, resolving conflicts, and developing a stronger, healthier relationship. While some couples may be able to achieve these objectives through therapy, others may struggle. The willingness of both partners to participate fully, compatibility between the therapist and the couple, and the nature of the relationship itself are all factors that contribute to successful therapy.

Resistance to change, external stressors, and mental health issues are all obstacles to successful therapy. Couples can improve their chances of success in therapy by prioritizing therapy, remaining positive, and remaining open-minded.

If you are thinking about going to couples therapy, you should go in with realistic expectations and a commitment to the process. Remember that therapy is a process, and that progress can be slow. Working together with your therapist and with each other, you can create a stronger, more resilient relationship that will last.

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