8 Ways To Tell If Couples Therapy Is Helping Your Relationship (Or If It's Just A Waste Of Time & Money)

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How Can you Tell if Your Couples Therapy is Helping?

Is it paying off?

You finally convince your spouse to go to therapy. They're resistant but the arguing is more frequent, the sex practically non-existent and the kids are starting to notice that Mommy and Daddy are tense and no fun.

You go online, ask your friends, or maybe call your clergy looking for a recommendation. And when you finally pick someone, you drag yourself and your partner to the office and get started.

After a few uncomfortable sessions, you look at each other and ask, "Is this helping?"

RELATED: 6 Amazing Couples Therapy Exercises You Can Try At Home (And Skip The Therapist)

Couples therapy has a lot of moving parts and sometimes, it’s hard to know how it’s going. It’s important to give yourselves four to six sessions before judging it a success or failure.

So, is your relationship therapy moving in the right direction? Here are 8 ways to know:

1. You’re arguing less.

Arguing brings a lot of couples to therapy. Living with someone can stir up differences and most people don’t have enough tools to handle conflict well. Good relationship therapy will teach you research-based skills to get you through the tough times.

Whenever you get into a conflict that you don’t know how to resolve, you panic and stick that issue up on your relationship shelf. By the time you get to therapy, that shelf might be really sagging in the middle! Your therapist can help you to take those issues down and talk about them in a safe, structured way.

2. You’re having more fun.

Clearing the air and resolving issues in therapy will help you to put your energy into enjoying one another again. Many couples tell me that they’re happy to spend time together for the first time in years. It only makes sense that holding on to disappointment and resentment takes energy.

Freeing that energy allows you to feel more connected. Connection leads to spontaneity, joy, and laughter. 

3. You’re engaging, physically.

When we first get together there are hormones and chemicals at work in our brains. Increased levels of dopamine, vasopressin, and testosterone make us attracted to each other, affectionate and lust-filled.

Over time, these hormones and chemicals wear off and our relationship gets routine. Add unresolved conflict, resentment, sadness, and anger to that situation, and many couples stop touching.

Good couples therapy will address your sexuality and help get you back on track. As you clear the air and start to enjoy being together, you might find yourselves holding hands, kissing, and making love more.

4. You’re focusing on the present and letting go of the past. 

Sometimes when couples start to argue, they start with one specific thing and throw in the kitchen sink! When issues are not truly resolved, they tend to come up again and again. Back to that sagging relationship shelf…issues just fall off and hit you in the head when you least expect it.

After some good couples therapy, you should notice that you are able to stick with the issue at hand. It’s important to let go of the past because objects appear larger in the rear view mirror!

If there’s a significant hurt, say a breach of trust, you’ll need to explore and understand that in therapy. If done well, it’ll be healed and will stay in the past.

RELATED: 7 (Painfully) True Things To Know Before Starting Couples Therapy

5. You’ll find yourselves acting more loving.

The basis of most therapies is talk. Learning to communicate well is very important but so is behavior. One thing I do with couples in my office is to have them explore their individual languages of love. Once you know what your partner is looking for, you can engage in the loving, caring behaviors that really rock their world.

If you find yourself going out of your way to do that something special for your mate, the therapy might be helping. When you behave positively, your partner will most likely reciprocate, forming a positive spiral of loving behaviors.

6. Reverting to old patterns is intolerable.

Once you’ve begun to experience the positive effects of therapy, it feels intolerable to go back to the old patterns. Couples who used to tolerate days of fighting and disconnection, later report feeling terrible after a small spat. That’s because you now know what’s possible. Living in safe, positive, intimate connection is what you’ve longed for.

Giving it up, for even a moment, is not okay. The good news is that this realization can help you to get right back to your new learned habits and set the ship straight again.

7. You’re using your new tools at home.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to practice what you’re learning in the therapist’s office between sessions. Like any new tool, you can’t really expect to get good without repetition. Imagine going to a class to learn a foreign language and only speaking in that language for that one hour a week!

I ask couples to pull up two chairs, look into each other’s eyes, hold hands and take turns listening to one another at home during the periods when I’m not with them.

Good communication is a tool that will only be available in a crisis if it’s at the top of the tool bag. Pope Francis sums it up nicely when he says that communication is something to practice in moments of peace for moments of challenge.

8. You’re more focused on what you’re up to in the relationship.

When couples first come to therapy, I find that they are pretty focused on what their partner is doing wrong. Over time, you should notice a shift toward greater awareness of your own behavior in the relationship.

Good couples therapy helps you to identify what you are contributing to your relationship dynamic and to take 100 percent responsibility. I always say that 50/50 is a formula used in divorce, while 100/100 works much better in marriage!

Each of you must take full responsibility for the way you speak, listen, behave and relate. When that happens, you change the only thing you really can — yourself!

If at the end of a month or two, you find that you are not significantly progressing in these areas, you might want to have a talk with your therapist. She may have insight as to what’s in the way.​

RELATED: 5 Critical Q's To Answer Before Going To Couples Counseling

Mary Kay Cocharo is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California. For more information, visit her website.

This article was originally published at Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT. Reprinted with permission from the author.