Unhappy In The Relationship: Should I Seek Couples Therapy?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated May 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Intimate relationships can be challenging, and many couples struggle to communicate, express love, and compromise. If you're unhappy in your relationship, relationship therapy may be beneficial. Learning more about how relationship therapy functions can help you decide on a provider and make informed decisions for your relationship's future. 

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Is it normal to be unsure in a relationship?

Many people might believe that relationships should always be fun and exciting, full of date nights and passion, but it's not uncommon for people to feel unhappy in a relationship. When a relationship dynamic changes over time, a couple might feel uncertain about their connection, their emotions, or what to do next. These feelings can be perfectly normal, and if you’re experiencing them, you’re not alone, and there’s nothing wrong with you.

When partners enter relationships, they may overlook minor flaws or unwanted behaviors due to the rush of love chemicals in the brain. Over time, these tendencies can change as the stages of love change. Some people might see these shifts as signs of an unhappy relationship and worry that they have experienced a loss of love or intimacy. 

Dissatisfaction can be a common part of relationships and long-term commitment. However, it may signify a more profound concern if you are experiencing extreme distress, constant arguments, or unhealthy dynamics. These complications may eventually lead to a negative relationship. Talking to a therapist can help you understand your dynamic with your partner and decide how you want your relationship to proceed. 

What to do when you’re experiencing unhappiness in a relationship

Below are a few strategies and aspects of relationship advice to figure out your next steps in a relationship where you feel unhappy.

Stay true to yourself

Although it may be tempting to lie or cover up the truth to make your partner feel better, try to be honest about your emotions with your partner. Experiencing periods of relationship dissatisfaction can be normal as long as the relationship is healthy. However, if you are consistently feeling unhappy in the relationship, you should talk to your partner about it. If you struggle to have this conversation with them, you can try meeting with a therapist for mediation. 

Honesty with yourself about your current emotional state can also allow a clearer perspective on your personal needs. If you know you're unhappy in a relationship, you can start to develop a strategy to improve your situation. Look at other areas of your daily life and be honest about what might be impacting your overall health and well being. Are you experiencing family conflicts, major life transitions, or uncertainty about your future? These areas may all affect how you feel about your relationship. 

When communicating with your partner about your feeling unhappy, use discretion and speak with respect. Be clear about your current mindset and resist picking fights. If you're confused or feel disrespected, convey that to your partner. Let them know what you need and that it may take more than a date night to get back on track. If you aren’t sure if you want to be with your partner anymore and need space, you can ask for it. Setting boundaries can be effective in any situation, not just during a conflict. 

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Discuss options for resolution 

After having an honest conversation with your partner, getting on the same page, and determining your needs, it can be valuable to develop a plan. Based on your thoughts about the situation and conversations with your partner, you have a few options, including the following: 

Revisiting your goals 

Begin by asking yourself and your partner if the original goals you had when establishing the relationship are the same. For example, have your views changed on dating, family, marriage, or children since you started the relationship? 

If you've found that you no longer are in love with your partner or are unhappy in the relationship, you might also choose to leave. Choosing a breakup can be overwhelming, but if you’ve already put forth your best efforts and know it's the right choice for you, it can be healthy. Have a conversation with your partner and let them know how your priorities or feelings have shifted. 

Staying the same 

Making no changes is another potential resolution. You can choose to let the progression of the relationship continue naturally. However, if you find that you are constantly feeling unhappy or are in significant emotional distress, this option might not benefit you in the long term. Waiting for a change without acting might not get you happiness. 

Seeking individual counseling 

You can attend individual counseling to learn new ways of thinking, communicating, and coping based on the experiences that you've had that may be contributing to an unhappy marriage or relationship. An individual therapist may help you develop techniques to use with your partner in your relationship. 

Seeking couples therapy 

You and your partner can also choose to pursue couples counseling together and commit to resolving the underlying conflicts or challenges in your relationship. Marriage counseling, couples therapy, and family therapy can be highly beneficial and offer couples a chance to talk with a mediator in the room while learning unique relationship-based skills. Therapy can create space to help you gain clarity on your situation and provide you with coping skills to meet your goals. 

Willingness to attend therapy can be essential in improving the relationship for both partners. If one partner doesn't want to make the relationship work or isn't interested in relationship counseling, attending therapy is unlikely to be very effective.  

However, when couples are dedicated to the process, couples therapy can be a powerful tool that yields significant results for healthy relationships. One study found that over 70% of couples believed that couples therapy was effective. If you want to learn more about couples therapy before attending, you may be able to schedule consultations with several providers. 

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If you’re feeling unhappy, consider couples counseling

Some couples may feel that counseling is only for those with a mental illness or for married couples who are in the process of divorcing. But the truth is, anyone can attend couples counseling for any reason. Many people use couples therapy sessions as a tool to plan for future conflict, learn healthy relationship skills, and understand the science behind love.

No matter your concern, whether you feel happy or unhappy, couples therapy could be helpful and benefit you. You can choose a structured, creative, or loose approach to counseling, depending on the modality you pick. Though many partners wait to meet with a provider until a conflict has become significant, you can meet with a therapist at any point in your relationship. 

Common reasons couples might go to therapy can include the following: 

  • Feeling unheard 
  • Lack of intimacy or unfulfilling sex life
  • Frequent arguments
  • Living parallel lives
  • Communication concerns
  • Anger concerns
  • Life transitions 
  • Chronic stress
  • Infidelity
  • Infertility 
  • Mental illness
  • Adoption or fostering
  • Polyamory
  • Family conflict
  • Disagreements 
  • Differences in core values
  • Different love languages
  • Unwanted behavior from the spouse
  • Issues with an in-law or parent 
  • Other interests and different friends

What to expect in a couples therapy session

Every relationship is unique, and while you may discuss similar problems with other relationships, a therapist will take the time to get to learn about your unique situation. The first few couples therapy sessions may be dedicated to discussing your primary relationship concerns and any maladaptive patterns. During the first few sessions, your licensed therapist may also take account of your mental health history or personal concerns. Some couples therapists make it a point to meet with each client individually before meeting with them together. 

After the intake session, the sessions may shift to discussing solutions in further detail. The therapist can educate you about the research behind relationship wellness and may lead you and your partner in exercises to strengthen your bond and help you understand your communication patterns. 

In couples therapy, you could work on the following: 

  • Improving and developing healthy communication skills
  • Improving emotional intimacy
  • Improving conflict resolution skills
  • Developing problem-solving skills 
  • Navigating transitions, changes in values, or other life challenges
  • Assessing and treating a mental illness that is affecting the relationship
  • Rebuilding trust after unfaithfulness or betrayal
  • Moving through grief 
  • Navigating a divorce, breakup, or separation 
  • Discussing family planning, including becoming parents 
  • Learning how to spend more quality time together

You can address many topics with your therapist, so be honest about what you need and develop a treatment plan to address those needs. 

Different types of relationship therapy

Couples therapy 

Couples therapy supports couples in all forms as they work through a challenge, meet their goals, and bond on a more profound level. Partners of any age, sexuality, gender, or background may benefit from couples counseling. 

Marriage counseling 

Marriage counseling focuses primarily on married partners and the unique aspects of marriage, as a lifelong commitment can be associated with specific challenges. You can attend marriage therapy regardless of the length of your marriage. Couples who have been together for decades may still benefit from learning and growing together. 

Premarital counseling 

Premarital counseling is an option for engaged couples. This form of relationship therapy is often used to discuss concerns about marriage, commitment, or the wedding. Clients might also discuss milestones associated with their specific marriage situation, such as moving in together or choosing to have kids. Many couples use this tool to improve their bond and understanding of each other before their big day. 

Family therapy 

If your marriage or relationship concerns affect others in your family, you might want to consider family therapy to help you find solutions. Family therapists are trained to address a family as a group and support each other in resolving conflict. 

Imago relationship therapy 

Imago relationship therapy is a type of relationship therapy that focuses on identifying and treating the core concerns of each individual's past. Each partner may have core experiences from childhood that impact their adult relationships. These issues might arise in conversations or when partners are upset with each other. Through Imago relationship therapy, the therapist can help each member of the couple understand how the other processes memories and emotions. 

The Gottman Method 

The Gottman method integrates relationship interventions based on managing conflict instead of finding solutions. In sessions, the therapist is a relationship expert who makes an initial assessment called a love map to help the couple outline their strengths and growth areas. 

The goals of the Gottman method may include increasing intimacy, affection, and respect in a relationship and removing barriers that create stagnancy. The therapist might also focus on creating a heightened sense of empathy and understanding. You can learn more about this form of couples therapy through the Gottman Institute, founded by doctors John and Julie Gottman. 

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) 

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is a humanistic approach that incorporates the concepts of attachment theory and the innate need that humans have for intimacy and connection. Though EFT can be practiced in couples or family therapy, it can also be practiced in individual therapy. Couples looking to understand their emotional motivations may benefit from this type of counseling. 

Counseling options for unhappy relationships

Relationship therapists help couples establish goals for the relationship and facilitate healthier communication. You may be able to find a therapist that accepts insurance for couples therapy. However, many insurance companies require at least one member of the couple to have a diagnosed mental health condition before offering coverage for couples therapy. If you and your partner are seeking couples therapy and encountering affordability issues, consider internet-based couples counseling. 

Online counseling operates much like in-person therapy, with a few extra benefits. With traditional therapy, you may travel to an office to meet your therapist in person. Online, you can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions with a licensed therapist. Couples can often save travel costs by not having to commute, and some online platforms may allow couples to use nicknames during sessions for more discreet care, which might help you or your partner feel comfortable.  

One study found that internet-based couples therapy was more effective than in-person options for some couples. If you're interested in trying relationship therapy immediately, you can sign up for a platform like BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples. Both platforms offer thousands of therapists licensed to provide various specialties and modalities of treatment. 

Takeaway

People in unhappy relationships have several options. Although not all couples choose to stay together when they are unhappy, if you're hoping to make changes in your current relationship, consider talking to a couples counselor or relationship coach. You're not alone in your experiences, and a licensed professional can offer support.

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