262 Commercial Street, North Sydney, NS B2A 1B8

Does couples therapy work, East Coast Psychotherapy & Trauma Clinic, North Sydney

Does couples therapy work?

Is my relationship worth saving or is it too late? How do we know if we need couples therapy? When is couples therapy helpful for relationships? Does couples therapy work? If you’re considering couples therapy (or marriage therapy), you’ve likely asked yourself those questions. Let’s take a back road for a minute, and think about relationships in a different way, and we might be able to come around to some of those answers.

Imagine this….you jump into a brand new, top of the line vehicle and drive the heck out of it – but you don’t ever change the oil, rotate the tires or fill it with gas. Maybe in the back of your mind, you knew you should have but you didn’t make the time or effort, weren’t quite sure how, or maybe you had no idea that vehicles even use oil.  Regardless, you’ll inevitably end up on the highway with an empty tank, a blown tire, or a burnt out engine. You could call a wrecker, send it to the junk heap and buy a new car, but if you do the same with a new car, you’ll end up in the same place. If your tire is leaking air or your windshield cracks, making the choice to repair it needs to be a conscious one, and you need to have the skills and support to get the job done. No matter what kind of car you drive, you have to do regular maintenance, otherwise, you won’t be able to relax and enjoy the ride, or navigate the detours you come across on the road. Ultimately, you have to take care of your vehicle, and drive it responsibly, otherwise it just won’t last. We’ve all likely admired a beautiful vintage car that shines and runs like a dream – well taken care of and loved after hitting countless bumps, or have shaken our heads in awe at that old truck that starts on the coldest morning of the year because of years of TLC. We can also relate to having a car that looks fancy and flashy on the outside, but the engine is rusted out under the hood and it no longer starts.

When you pick a partner, you pick a story. So what kind of story are you going to write.

– Esther Perel

Why Seek Couples Therapy?

Seeking couples therapy – coming to a therapist’s office with your partner to strengthen or heal a relationship – is something that’s often seen as only needed in a crisis (when that check engine light comes on, or when you’re crashed on the side of the highway). In fact, most couples who are struggling wait upwards of six years before seeking help. The struggle that feels overwhelming looks different for different people. For some, there’s a crisis – infidelity or an ask for separation – and for others, it’s just that feeling of running on empty, and wondering what’s left in the relationship. Maybe you feel like one partner is always in the driver’s seat, and one is just along for the ride, maybe you’re riding in total silence with no idea where you’re going, or constantly screaming about which direction to turn. One of the most important things to keep in mind, as you consider giving couples therapy a try, is that being open to change is the most important predictor of success, no matter the challenge.

Of course, the car metaphor is a simplistic one, but I think it makes sense. Most people come to couples therapy seeking to strengthen or heal their relationship. Couples therapy can be beneficial for new couples – to help build a foundation of trust, commitment, communication and emotional intimacy, and it is beneficial for couples who have been together for years and years. To sustain our relationships over the long term, we need to have a look at our patterns and we need to decide what kind of drivers (and passengers) we are going to be on our life journey – both for the epic sunset cruises and the inevitable bumpy detours that life throws at us. Sometimes, through the therapy process, partners decide that their relationship will end, in which case the goal becomes finding the most amicable final closing chapter.

Some people leave a marriage literally, by divorcing. Others do so by leading parallel lives together.
– John Gottman

Our Approach to Couples Therapy

You could think of a couples therapist as your navigational system….there to help you untangle where you are, where you came from, and sort out how to get where you want to go. Our approach to couples therapy is evidence based, draws on best practices, solid research and decades of study by leaders in the field. We know that humans are social creatures and we know that healthy, fulfilling relationships are possible. All relationships have perpetual challenges, and knowing what those challenges are and how to face them is empowering. When a relationship with a partner thrives, individuals thrive because we are, at our core, hard-wired for connection with others. So, approach couples therapy with an openness to change and a belief that you are capable of and deserve a loving partnership and we will be glad to help you find your path forward.
Love is not the icing on the cake of life. It is a basic primary need, like oxygen or water. Once we understand and accept this, we can more easily get to the heart of relationship problems.
– Sue Johnson


Health benefits of sharing feelings: International Journal Of Psychotherapy Practice And Research (2020). “Consequences of Repression of Emotion:Physical Health, Mental Health and General Well Being.”

Gottman, J.M. (2007). Marital Therapy: A research-based approach. Training manual for the Level I professional workshop for clinicians. Seattle, WA: The Gottman Institute.

Johnson, S. (2008). Hold Me Tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York: Little Brown and Company.

Meunier, V. and Baker, W. (2012). Positive Couple Relationships: The evidence for long lasting relationship satisfaction and happiness. In Roffey, S. (Ed.) Positive Relationships: Evidence-based practice across the world. Sydney, Australia: Springer Publications.

Wampold, B. E. & Brown, G. S. (2005). Estimating therapist variability: A naturalistic study of outcomes in managed care. Journal of Consulting & Developmental Psychology, 73, 914-928.

Young, M.A. (2005). Creating a Confluence: An Interview With Susan Johnson and John Gottman. The Family Journal, 13(2), 219-225.

Jennifer MacDonald, Registered Counselling Therapist, East Coast Psychotherapy & Trauma Clinic, North Sydney

About The Author

Jennifer MacDonald B.A., BED., M.Ed., CCC, RCT-C, is one of the registered counselling therapists of the East Coast Psychotherapy & Trauma Clinic. In her 10+ years of experience as a counsellor, she has supported individuals, couples, veterans, and families through all sorts of challenges.