Surprisingly, the number one thing couples seek couples therapy for — and break up over — is not something as scandlous as an unsatisfying sex life, money battles or infidelity.
It’s … communication! Specifically, the breakdown of it.
In other words, learning how to effectively and lovingly communicate with your partner is the best thing you ever do for your relationship.
A survey of YourTango Experts, our esteemed network of psychotherapists, counselors, coaches and other helping professionals, revealed some surprising and myth-busting insights into the inner-workings of our relationships and the counseling that millions of couples seek in order to strengthen their bonds each year.
Read on to find out the 12 relationship and couples therapy myths our experts busted:
1. Infidelity is the #1 reason couple break up.
When asked why couples split, experts chose not infidelity but “communication issues” as the top reason couples break up, followed by “loss of intimacy.” Infidelity came in third.
“A lack of communication is the origin of most problems couples experience, often resulting in the break down of a relationship,” YourTango Expert and Dating Coach, Norma Germain, explains. “Not understanding how to make feelings and wishes known to a partner in a non-threatening, non-combative fashion can lead to massive frustration and alienation from one another.”
2. It’s only my husband who “never listens to me.”
Could your relationship use some help in the communication department? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Seventy-two percent of therapists listed “communication problems” as the top reason couples seek therapy, followed by a lack of emotional intimacy. The feeling that “the spark is gone/we no longer enjoy one another” was third and infidelity came in fourth.
YourTango Expert and Relationship Coach Kim Sarrasin dispels another relationship myth — that it’s primarily men who have trouble communicating: “Women believe they communicate more (and better) than their guy. The truth is, most women hold back a lot about what they really want for fear he’ll run away and/or he’s not interested in making her happy. If women understood how much men want to make them happy, they’d be asking for so much more and divorce stats would drop overnight.”
3. The top two topics couples fight about are sex and money.
Wrong. According to our survey, the number one reason couples fight is that one or both parties don’t feel “important or valued by the other”; communication problems ranked second, followed by money in third place then sex at a distant fourth.
“It’s a common misconception that people think most fights are about sex or money, but those are just symptoms,” YourTango Expert and Relationship Coach Johanna Lyman says. “The underlying problems are a lack of clean communication.”
Expert and Therapist Ilene Dillon adds that making your partner feel valued and important is actually rather simple: “Couples married a long time indicate that it’s ‘little things’ that make the difference: being of service to one another, giving a touch on the shoulder, offering a love note in a lunch box, holding hands, giving a card or a single flower, creating a simple but great meal, or eagerly greeting one’s partner.”
4. Therapy takes years to work.
In reality, the survey revealed most clients, on average, start to see improvements in 4-10 sessions.
“These results are not just fascinating but also very encouraging. Couples who have conflicts can look at this data and expect there’s a good chance they can benefit from expert help — relatively quickly, especially if they stick with it!” states YourTango CEO Andrea Miller. “Nearly 55 percent of the experts indicated that couples quit therapy prematurely.”
5. Therapy is going to kill our sex life.
Au contraire! A whopping 80 percent of therapists said counseling leads their clients to “more sex.”
YourTango Expert and Therapist Lynn Zakeri confirms this phenomenon. “When couples say they have not been intimate in months, and they are intimate in my office talking about their feelings, they often return with a smirk and a smile saying they were intimate in the bedroom over the past week and it felt so good to connect again.”
6. It’s hard to find a good therapist.
The #1 cause for failure in therapy is the lack of effort from one or both partners (62 percent of experts agreed). Only three percent of experts cited a bad fit between the client and the therapist for failure in therapy.
YourTango Expert and Therapist Sandy Jardine agrees it’s not difficult to find a good therapist but you have to know what you’re looking for. She advises you ask about their training and experience as a couples therapist — the specific model of therapy they practice and whether or not they’ll see you individually, as well (which a good couples counselor should not do!). A couple extra practical tips? “Talk to them on the phone to get a feel for them prior to making an appointment” and “expect to pay for therapy,” she says, as not all insurance plans cover couples counseling — at least not in full.
7. Infidelity almost always leads to a divorce or breakup.
While the experts did deem infidelity as the most difficult issue for a couple to get over, therein lies the truth about infidelity — couples can work through it. To echo #1 on this list, it’s communication issues — not infidelity — that most often leads a couple to split.
“I have found that infidelity is a symptom of other issues like lack of communication or intimacy,” YourTango Expert and Therapist Kate Evans says. “Those who go outside their relationship are usually choosing to continue the patterns that got them here in the first place — not facing the true problems with their spouse. Once the infidelity has taken place, it’s then the broken trust that becomes so difficult to overcome and requires commitment on both sides, to sit through the pain instead of running.”
8. Couples are most likely to cheat after being together for years — when boredom hits.
Not so! In fact, the riskiest stretch for couples is the three-to-five year period in a relationship, as 40 percent of experts said this is the time where partners are most likely to cheat. Likewise, two-thirds of experts agreed that children in a relationship — which can increase stress — does not make a couple more susceptible to infidelity.
YourTango Expert and Relationship Coach Sharon Lynn Wyeth explains, “The first few years of marriage you [second] guess yourself. Did you make the right choice? Do you want to be devoted to only one person? Is marriage what you thought it would be? So many questions go through your head that it is tempting to cheat on your spouse to reaffirm for yourself that you chose correctly the first time around. Thus, more cheating occurs in the first few years of marriage than later when you are so comfortable with your partner and have shared so many things, that cheating has become unthinkable.”
9. Gay couples face issues that are very different from the ones straight couples encounter.
In reality, both, homosexual and heterosexual couples split for the same top three reasons: communication issues, loss of intimacy and infidelity — though infidelity ranked second for gay couples and third for straight.
Dillon speaks to this, “The only reason, in my experience, that fidelity issues come in a different order for lesbian or gay couples is that, without clear boundaries such as are given through the expectations of marriage, the gay and lesbian partners I’ve worked with are left to make their own — and they’re not as clear. The heartache was the same when the partner strayed, however. I’m expecting our differences to melt away as more and more gay couples enter marriage and have the cultural support to insist upon fidelity.”
10. Our country’s obsession with sports is all fun and games.
While cheering on your favorite team now and again is no big deal, beware of going overboard. Fifty-seven percent of experts said watching sports and consuming sports stats has a negative affect on relationships.
“Some of this statistic is due to the prevalence of alcohol and bad behavior that is connected with sports. Sports idealizes the Peter Pan life of never growing up, which is detrimental to the responsibility needed to create healthy relationships and families,” YourTango Expert and Therapist Dr. Tina Tessina explains.
11. Checking my e-mail during dinner is harmless.
Seventy percent of experts said technology is talked about on some level with all clients (13 percent said with clients in every session).
“In my practice, I’ve seen internet sex addiction, porn addiction, game-playing addiction, overspending on the internet and overworking due to internet availability,” Tessina says. “These problems are obsessive, and suck up all the time that could be devoted to families and relationships. All of this easy accessibility is relatively new, and people have not learned to manage or control it yet, and some people, as we know from non-internet addictions, never will.”
12. Celebrities have it made.
Anyone who follows celeb news knows that celebrities have their share of relationship problems. YourTango experts sounded in on the relationships of those in the spotlight:
- 44 percent thought Heidi Klum and Seal were the most in need of couples therapy, followed by Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith (19 percent), and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (17 percent)
- 51 percent said Kim Kardashian is the celebrity most in need of a dating coach, followed by Rihanna (26 percent)
- Arnold Schwarzenegger is the politician “most in need of therapy,” closely followed by Newt Gingrich
- 58 percent said Barack and Michelle Obama are the celebrities who seem to have the best relationship (followed by Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi and — 0 percent of the vote — Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes)