Do you have to be married to seek couples therapy?
For many people, the terms “couples therapy” and “marriage counseling” are synonymous. But not everyone in a long-term relationship is married. For those people, they may wonder whether couples therapy is an option for them.
Can unmarried people attend couples therapy?
There’s a simple answer to this question: you don't have to be married to seek couples therapy. Not every relationship involves marriage, so marriage counseling is often called relationship counseling or couples counseling to be more inclusive.
That’s because the goal in couples therapy is to work on improving the relationship together. The longevity of your relationship has nothing to do with that, nor does your relationship’s official status with the government.
In fact, in some cases, couples counseling can actually serve to help the members of the couple move on from the relationship and part ways amicably. Some exes continue to attend couples therapy even after a successful separation to effectively resolve conflict and to help co-parent more smoothly.
So why do so many people assume you have to be married?
In the past, when couples got married after much shorter periods of dating, they may have gotten married before key sources of conflict in their relationship had time to surface.
But increasingly, younger people are choosing to put off marriage (or not to get married altogether). But that doesn’t mean they’re also putting off investing in the longevity and health of their relationships. In fact, many younger people see therapy not as a sign of problems, but as a regular part of self-care. Hence the rise in unmarried couples seeking counseling.
The truth is that couples therapy can be a valuable relationship tool before marriage, during a marriage, and if you were once married and have now divorced or separated. Just like every stage of a relationship takes work, every stage of a relationship can potentially benefit from couples therapy.
What issues can couples therapy help with?
- Building trust
- Learning effective communication skills
- Resolving conflict and learning to disagree effectively
- Managing anger with one another
- Learning problem-solving strategies so you can tackle hard times as a united front
- Exploring relationship goals and philosophies
- Defining relationship responsibilities
- Working through specific life challenges and changes
As you can see, the goals of couples therapy aren’t exclusive to married couples.
How to know if couples counseling is right for you
There’s one very important indicator about whether couples counseling might work, and it has nothing to do with whether you’re married. Here it is:
Both people in the couple are willing to show up to therapy and engage with their partner and their therapist.
That’s it! If you’re facing a big issue in your relationship (or even if you just want to check in for a relationship tune-up), as long as you and your partner are both willing and able to communicate with each other and a therapist openly and honestly, couples therapy has a good chance of benefiting your relationship.