Healthy relationships need couples counseling too, experts say. Here's why.

·4 min read

When you think of couples therapy, you might picture incompatible partners whose relationship has reached a breaking point. But the reality is, many stable, happy, healthy couples regularly attend therapy sessions for an array of reasons.

"Even if you're not having any active arguments, couples therapy can be a really good place to affirm your connection and build on the strengths you have," says Andrea Battiola, owner and psychotherapist at Peak Couples and Sex Therapy. "Couples therapy is actually best to avoid getting into the crisis in the first place by helping set a foundation for any storm that will come your way."

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Many couples assume they don't need therapy because they aren't on the verge of breaking up. Or they assume it's for doomed romances. But experts say this negative perception of couples therapy stems from the "shame attached to needing help, both individually and as a couple."

"It's based on the assumption that couples who are solid should be able to work out their issues with no help at all. And if you need help, it must mean your relationship is broken or you don't have much choice, so it's seen as a last resort," says clinical psychologist Vanessa Katz.

Sara Nasserzadeh, a couples counselor and psychosexual therapist, reminds the couples she works with that love can't solve every problem.

"Reaching out to someone for help means admitting there's something that's not quite working, and that can be hard for couples that assume love needs to fix everything," she says. "The first step is acknowledging it's not true: Love is not the fixer for all problems. And that's a very scary admission for some people."

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Every couples therapy session is different, but counselors can help with an array of topics, including trust, communication, sex, money and control.

"I have couples who come to me who have been dating a while and want to take the next step," Nasserzadeh says. "For some people, it's to move in together or have a kid together or get married or explore sexual fantasies."

Battiola recommends couples to consider therapy during periods of transition.

"I recommend premarital therapy, because that's a good time when there aren't issues. You aren't coming because you have this big glaring problem, but instead you're coming to reaffirm and build that foundation before taking a big life step together."

Regardless of why you're getting therapy, a neutral third-party can be reassuring. Therapy is "a "safe space for couples to be more vulnerable and get help in learning how to listen."

"Most humans want to be acknowledged in their experiences, yet couples tend to get defensive rather than listen," Katz says. "All couples can benefit from better communication skills and sharing their feelings rather than holding them in, which results in resentment or withdrawing from the relationship."

How to find the right couples therapist for your needs

It's important to get a counselor who caters to your relationship's specific needs. So how do you find one?

"If you have someone you trust whose been to couples therapy and benefitted from it, that would be the best place to go," Katz says, adding that it's more common than you may think.

However, if you're uncomfortable opening up to friends, a thorough online search can also help. Browse online profiles of therapists to see if they'll speak about topics of importance for you. Many counselors will often hold what's called a discovery session, or a quick phone call, to see if you're a good fit before the first session.

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"Ask to see if that person would hold a 15-minute conversation, and see if the dynamic works. Ask questions and pay attention to the questions they ask you to see if you resonate with them," Nasserzadeh advises.

Once you have a therapist, both partners should pay attention to how they feel about opening up.

"If you don't feel comfortable or you feel like they don't really get you, it's probably not the right therapist for you," she says. "One of the biggest factors related to the success of therapy is fit between the client and therapist, so it's just so important to genuinely feel like you can open up and feel safe."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Couples therapy is for healthy relationships, not just broken ones