Couples Therapy FAQs: How Long Does This Take?!

How many sessions of couples counseling will we need? I get this question from almost all of the couples with whom I work. Of course you want to know this! In other words, how much money will we spend, how long until we feel better…. etc. The short answer is: it depends. So lets talk about the things it depends on. Because Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) has a robust body of research behind it, we can rely on more than anecdotes. Research tells us that 12-20 sessions is the average length of treatment for couples receiving Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). However, this can vary widely. Some of the factors that can contribute to a longer length of treatment include:

  • When one or both partners have experienced significant trauma.

Childhood abuse and neglect can have lasting impacts on the way a person relates to the world and shows up in their relationships, and this impact can be “sticky” in the sense that even when we recognize a pattern of behavior, it isn’t always so easy to change. The great news is that relationships are the very best place to heal this kind of trauma and to change patterns that aren’t serving you anymore, and that people do it succesfully ALL THE TIME! The hard part is that we have to be patient in changing patterns that were ingrained at a young age. It is not a hard and fast rule that just because you or your partner have experienced trauma that therapy will take longer, but you may want to prepare for that possibility.

  • Amount of time spent in a negative interactional pattern

I often imagine the negative cycles that couples get in as worn paths in a field. The more that you walk them the deeper the ruts get, and the more awkward it can feel to step out of them and walk a different path. If you have been walking the same rut for 20 years and it’s so deep you can barely peek out at the field above, it may take some time for you and your partner to help pull each other out and learn to walk a new path.

  • Complicating factors such as affairs, substance use / addiction, violence

Certain experiences can fundamentally change the way we view the security of a relationship. Couples who have been through such an experience often need more time to rebuild trust and safety. Some examples of experiences / events that may fall in this category include infidelity, deception related to addiction, or abusive behavior.

  • Frequency of treatment

    Couples therapy is a big commitment of time and money. While I understand the desire to spread this out over time, I encourage couples, when possible, to front-load their treatment. The point of couples therapy is not to have a mediator at spaced intervals, but to help you build confidence in your own ability to come back into connection when you hit a bump in the road. As such, I encourage couples to come to couples therapy weekly if they are able, especially in the beginning of treatment. You will get more bang for your buck spacing 10 sessions over 10 weeks than 10 sessions over 10 months.

  • Engagement with treatment

This doesn’t mean that you need to love therapy or be a “therapy person,” but just that you show up fully present to sessions, and continue to bring effort and attention to your relationship outside the therapy room. Many people find it helpful to read Hold Me Tight by Susan Johnson while in couples therapy, or using the Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy Workbook. The more you are willing to explore and own your part of the negative dance between you and your partner, the more quickly you are likely to see results.

  • Supplementing with individual treatment when recommended.

For some people it can be helpful to supplement couples therapy with individual therapy. I often see clients make significant progress in couples therapy when they follow my recommendation to seek individual therapy. Make sure that your individual therapist is attachment-friendly and open to helping you see the struggle between you and your partner as understandable attachment distress, rather than pathologizing either of you. If you need help finding such a therapist, ask your couples therapist!

  • Relief from conflict vs. lasting change

EFT has two distinct phases. The first phase is all about de-escalating the negative cycle between you and your partner. When you are able to do this it generally feels amazing! Couples often consider stopping therapy at this point, because they came to stop fighting, and they aren’t fighting nearly as much. However, research shows that couples who complete the second phase of EFT, in which they have deeper conversations about their fears, longings, and relationship needs, experience longer-lasting benefits from therapy. This is one of the ways EFT differs from other types of couples therapy - while many couples therapies are beneficial while couples are in therapy and shortly thereafter, studies show that the benefits of EFT persist for years after stopping treatment. This is especially true for couples who hang in there and complete the second phase of treatment.

The commitment of time, money, and emotional energy required to engage in couples therapy is significant. However, there is little that impacts our quality of life more than feeling like we have a safe, loving, and supportive relationship with our partner. When we can create this security in our bond, it is incredible what we are able to do from that secure base - ask for a raise at work, be a more confident and attuned parent, tap into our creative energy… the list goes on! Call me at 720.460.0481 today and begin your journey to a more loving, secure connection with your partner.