Relationships
Relationship therapy is a helpful tool for keeping your relationship healthy.

10 People Reveal How Therapy Saved Their Relationships

More tools = better communication.

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You might envision couples therapy as a sort of “last-ditch” effort to salvage a relationship that’s beyond repair. But that impression of this valuable mental health resource couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, one study published in The American Journal of Family Therapy surveyed 59 couples who sought therapy and found that most of them actually wanted to preserve their relationships, with 25% of them seeking to address one aspect of an otherwise happy partnership. And while couples therapy is not a quick-fix solution to endless fights, it can be transformative — giving partners the space to craft potentially relationship-saving communication strategies together.

Seattle-based sex and relationship therapist Claudia Johnson works with both individuals and partners at the Pacific Northwest (PNW) Sex Therapy Collective. And while there are many types of relationship therapy (a more inclusive term that refers to couples therapy, because people in polyamorous relationships also seek these resources!), Johnson says its core purpose is to facilitate more effective communication. “In relationship therapy, you’re working with the space between those individuals,” Johnson tells Elite Daily. “You’re working with their experiences and their frameworks to build awareness. It’s about getting more information and relearning how to communicate in a way that is nonjudgmental and noncritical.”

For anyone currently receiving individual therapy and wondering if they could benefit from relationship therapy, Johnson says she’ll typically recommend it if there’s an ongoing issue between partners that individual therapy hasn’t been able to solve — like, for example, if an individual feels the need to “protect” their partner in therapy, or if there’s a general desire to deepen intimacy and connection. But anyone can benefit from therapy, even if just to ensure their relationship has a solid foundation. “There’s this notion that something has to be wrong and you’re coming into therapy to fix it,” says Johnson. “But none of you are broken, and there is no fixing. It’s just more learning.”

To illustrate the role therapy can play in relationship-building, I spoke with 10 people about their experiences introducing it into their partnerships. Here’s what they revealed.

Content warning: This story contains mentions of sexual assault and toxic relationships.

01
Therapy Can Help You Break Damaging Cycles
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“Therapy taught me how to communicate in a productive manner, work on childhood trauma that is triggered in relationships, [build] honesty in relationships, express needs/wants without feeling bad, and break cycles from past relationships. My partner has been supportive and even went to therapy himself as a result. In order to have a healthy relationship with a partner, you have to have a healthy relationship within yourself.” — Molly*, 26

02
Therapy Can Help You Balance Your Judgments

“I learned the reason I judge other people is because I judge myself, and to approach myself (and therefore others) with curiosity and compassion, not shame and judgment. I learned to trust myself and trust my body. I am a violent sexual assault survivor and struggled heavily in the aftermath, which made dating difficult when things began getting physical, so [therapy] has been transformative. And I learned I am allowed to feel pleasure, however it shows up! I grew up in religious purity culture, and currently identify as bisexual, so learning to let go of shame and embrace pleasure and intimacy has been a game-changer for my relationships." — Maggie, 34

03
Therapy Can Help You Work Through Your Triggers

“I learned about my childhood traumas and how I’ve carried them into my current relationship. My therapist has helped me work through my triggers, set boundaries, and cultivate healthy communication. My husband is supportive; I understand myself better and he also understands me better, especially when I am being triggered. Therapy can create an opportunity for growth, awareness, and can improve your relationship significantly.” — Steph, 30

04
Therapy Can Teach You Grounding Techniques

“Learning grounding techniques helped me tremendously to not spiral and live in a constant state of fight-or-flight. Being able to be calm and present has positively impacted my relationship in many, many ways. My partner of 10 years has seen and felt the benefits of taking care of my mental health and my wellbeing. He says it was inspiring and motivating to see me do the work and heal, so much that he is now in therapy!” — Vania, 34

05
Therapy Can Give You A Sense Of Control
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“[Therapy taught me] when to say no. Too often I was the ‘people pleaser’ — I would do anything and everything for my partner. When I stopped and actually listened to my therapist, and specifically made boundaries, my relationships became stronger because my partner knew how to respect me and my feelings. I no longer became a doormat who felt overextended because most of the time, my partner would rarely ever return the favor. Rather, I finally acknowledged my own self-worth.” — Jessica, 25

06
Therapy Can Help You Identify Your Needs

“I think the most important [thing I’ve learned] has been to be able to acknowledge my needs while simultaneously understanding when they are coming from a place of hurt instead of a place of self-love. I’ve also learned about my patterns of avoidance, and how to work with my fears of intimacy and communicate them to partners. I’m currently working on decentering romantic love, and it’s one of the best things I’ve done for myself. Therapy has helped get me to this point in my life.” — Massiel, 26

07
Therapy Can Help Turn Arguments Into Disagreements

“My husband is super supportive of therapy and we talk a lot about what I learned and how we can apply it to our relationship to make it better. It has helped me not just in my romantic relationship but in my family relationships as well. I am able to see better why others react in certain ways and I understand my triggers better. This leads to disagreements, not arguments, and I believe it has even prevented problems as well. [It’s helped me] to approach disagreements in a calmer way and to communicate my needs better to my husband.” — Julia, 26

08
Therapy Can Help You Address Old Wounds

“[I’ve learned] so, so much — mostly as a survivor of a really toxic relationship, learning that some of my ‘defense’ mechanisms are just me anticipating hurt, and then acting accordingly. Also, so much self-doubt about how much I’m worthy of romantic love came from the toxic relationship and working through that. All of that better helps me understand my boundaries and how and why I’m communicating in the ways that I am, especially in times of conflict. My partner is also in therapy and has been for some time, and we openly talk about how it helps us better understand ourselves. We are both big, big fans!” — Mary Frances, 26

09
Therapy Can Expose Underlying Issues
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“Therapy has helped me see some underlying issues that were ruining aspects of my relationship. [For people considering therapy] even if the outcome and actual improvement is realizing you don’t need one another, it is still an improvement on an otherwise miserable relationship. It’s better to do than to not. It’s helped me stop keeping things from people out of fear of failure or other negative consequences, which only ever created more anxiety and self-loathing for myself.” — G, 30

10
Therapy Can Give You & Your Partner Space

“Working in a direct service field, I was experiencing a lot of secondhand trauma and having a hard time showing up as an equal partner because of what I was experiencing day-to-day at work. Therapy became a much better outlet for me to talk through what I was experiencing rather than trauma-dumping on my partner day after day. I credit therapy for giving me the skills and strength to eventually transition to a new job, and I think that change has made my relationship more stable, strong, and healthy because I have the mental and emotional energy to be an equitable partner.” — Ava, 26

*Name has been changed.

Studies referenced

Mamodhoussen, S.; McDuff, P.; Sabourin, S.; Tremblay, N.; Wright, J. (2008) Refining Therapeutic Mandates in Couple Therapy Outcome Research: A Feasibility Study. The American Journal of Family Therapy, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01926180701236175

Experts

Claudia Johnson, MA, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate with the PNW Sex Therapy Collective