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Overcoming the Stigma of Couples Therapy

Overcoming the Stigma of Couples TherapyThe word “therapy” carries unfortunate negative connotations in our society. Couples therapy provokes its own particular brand of stigma.

Many couples keep the fact that they go to couples therapy private, out of fear of being judged by other couples, or seen as dysfunctional. Many are ashamed themselves of having to seek therapy. More still choose to not seek out help in the first place, believing that therapy is unnecessary or means that there is something wrong with them.

It’s impossible to receive help when you are closed off to it, and when you yourself have misgivings about the process. Therapy is most fruitful when one has an open mind and lets the course of healing unfold. To do so, overcoming the stigma is essential.

You have to overcome stigma in two steps: First, you have to let go of others’ judgment, and second, you have to overcome the judgment of yourself.

In our success-oriented culture, our personal lives are held up to the magnifying glass as much as our professional lives are. Our relationships are no exception. The idea that a relationship is an accomplishment or achievement of sorts persists. Therefore, if your relationship is in trouble, so the thinking goes, you must be a failure.

This line of thinking is damaging and ultimately self-defeating. It takes two to tango in a relationship, and so placing the blame entirely on yourself, or on your partner for that matter, is futile. It’s a distraction that tells an incomplete story. It is impossible to progress and move forward if you are caught up in negativity and allowing blame (of self or otherwise) to hold you back.

Furthermore, you are not your relationship. Just because your relationship is in trouble, it does not mean you are a failure. Your relationship is an entity that involves you, but it is not you, and it does not determine your worth.

Our society places a premium value on independence, and as such, asking for help often is mistaken for a sign of weakness. In fact, the opposite is true: asking for help is a sign of strength.

Therapy is a self-directed act. Having the honesty and fortitude to admit that there is a problem — to recognize that your relationship is suffering — is something to commend yourself for, especially when so many people live in constant denial of their problems.

Being open about your problems with a third party (your therapist) also undeniably requires humility and strength. It takes courage to take the first step toward improvement. Instead of giving up, you are choosing to fight. By seeking help, you and your partner are honoring your commitment to one another, and you are agreeing to make an active effort to improve the life you have built together.

Couples therapy is the business of exactly three people: you, your partner, and your therapist. Outside of those three parties, the opinions of anyone else are irrelevant. You don’t have to tell friends or family that you are seeking counseling if you don’t want to. But if you do want to tell people, you should do so with the knowledge and confidence that whatever their opinion, you are making the right decision for yourself and your partner.

You also should recognize that judgment often stems from other people’s own insecurities. The truth is that many more couples are in need of therapy than they’d like to admit. This kind of criticism signals an incomplete world view on their part, not yours.

If marriage is indeed an accomplishment, then you can’t rest on your laurels; to maintain it takes work. Relationships aren’t built on transient, surface-level principles such as attraction, a reputation as “the perfect couple,” or the euphoria of the honeymoon phase. They’re made of conflict, of emotions and issues and all the messy pieces of life.

As with any endeavor, choosing to put in the work and move forward will always reap more reward than letting yourself kick back and stagnate. A relationship is an organism. It grows and changes over time. Like any organism, it is susceptible to threats to its health — whatever they may be — and requires effort to nurse it back to health. And, as with any type of health, whether physical or emotional, the presence and guidance of an expert can be invaluable.

Overcoming the Stigma of Couples Therapy

Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW

Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW, BCD, has over 30 years’ experience in relationship and couples therapy, helping couples and individuals find a deeper content and personal fulfillment in their relationships. She is a founding therapist of Park Avenue Relationship Consultants (PARC), a group of expertly trained clinicians based in NYC, specializing in couples therapy, family therapy and marriage counseling. Harriet is the author of For Richer For Poorer: Keeping Your Marriage Happy When She’s Making More Money. She has also been featured on national radio, Good Morning America and the Today Show. Harriet can be reached by calling 212.289.0295 or through the PARC website.

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APA Reference
Pappenheim, H. (2018). Overcoming the Stigma of Couples Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 30 Oct 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.