As the most wellness-focused generation yet, millennials are empowered to be their happiest, most energetic, healthiest selves. Gladly forgoing happy hour for yoga-and-green-juice dates, today's generation meditates to relieve stress, eats for hormone balance, and removes electronic devices from their bedrooms in order to get enough sleep.
But relationship care often gets neglected in this long list of self-care rituals. The model of what a partnership should look like has evolved over the years, and now both women and men feel that their partners or spouses should check off every "box"—they should be their best friend, the person who completes them, and the perfect mother or father to their children. And if you've finally found that person, you're all set, right? Maybe, but probably not.
Especially if you're a fan of therapy as a strategy for your own personal growth, it may be time to start incorporating couples therapy into your routine. "Couples therapy is mostly about learning tools to communicate better, which I think anybody can benefit from," says Kaely, a 35-year-old woman living in Los Angeles who has been with her spouse for over a decade. "It's crazy that we spend so much energy working to enhance everything else about ourselves and our lives, but we have so much shame about working on our relationships in the same way. Even though I'm in what I consider to be a healthy relationship, I think couples therapy helps to make it that much better."
Is couples therapy right for you and your partner? Here's what the experts have to say.
If you're comparing couples therapy to exercise, think of it as physical therapy.
Michael I. Bennet, M.D., relationship expert and author of F*ck Love, says that it's probably not necessary to go to couples therapy if there isn't a specific problem. But if there's one issue or fight that keeps coming up over and over again, give it a try. "Instead of thinking of couples therapy as regular exercise, like jogging or spin class, think of it as physical therapy, or something finite you take on to correct a specific injury," he explains.
He also recommends going into it with a specific goal in mind. "Consulting such a therapist with a smart goal is bound to be constructive and lead you either to a better relationship or to a better idea of what you must do to find what you’re looking for," he says. "If the basic elements of your relationship are good and what you need is help with specific issues and rules for preventing work and the kids from crowding out your commitment to your partnership, couples therapy can help."
Think of couples therapy as a check-in.
Dr. Jennifer Gentile, PsyD, a psychologist who treats patients via telehealth app LiveHealth Online, says that if you feel you need to go to couples therapy regularly, there's nothing wrong with that—but you can also view it as something you do once in a while as a way to check in.
"Engaging in brief periods of couples therapy provides the couple with an opportunity to check in with each other in a nonjudgmental and safe space," she explains. "As humans, we grow and change over time both individually and as a couple. Caring for a relationship can often fall below parenting, work, and other life tasks in terms of priorities. Nurturing the relationship strengthens the couple’s performance in all aspects of their partnered and individual lives."
But beware of taking it too far.
Here's the thing: Couples therapy isn't always the answer, and in some cases, it can actually make the relationship worse. "Couples therapy has the best chance of being useful if it's taken on with the right therapist and expectations," explains Bennett. "Otherwise, you run a high risk of doing more harm than good. The sad fact is that many relationship problems aren’t solvable; they have to do with unchangeable behaviors that are part of a person’s character and won’t be eased or altered by good talk, more time together, or any therapy yet invented."
Problems also arise when one partner goes into counseling with the wrong intentions. "If one partner is simply using couples therapy to lie and push aside or assuage the concerns of the other partner, it’s not only not productive," says Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S. "Hopefully the therapist will sense this and will push for honesty, but some people are very good at lying and keeping secrets, even in therapy. In cases like those, couples therapy can be counterproductive."
Interested in learning more about sex and relationships? Here's how five real women feel about cheating.