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What Is Behavioral Couples Therapy?

By Jennifer Long
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Behavioral couples therapy, also called couples therapy, is a type of therapy designed specifically to help couples and their relationship. Although it was once referred to as marital therapy, the term was adjusted to accommodate couples in general. The three types of behavioral therapy for couples are standard behavioral marital therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and integrated behavioral therapy. Each of these therapies is designed with a base structure to help couples overcome obstacles provided by undesirable behaviors.

One of the three types of behavioral couples therapy is marital therapy. Behavioral marital therapy works by teaching married couples how to work together to change negative behaviors. The therapist teaches couples to reward desirable behaviors. Couples also learn that certain environmental factors are an important influence on behaviors, whether negative or positive, and also that the environment can control the relationship.

Integrated behavioral couples therapy is not just for married couples. As the name suggests, it combines several aspects. Rewards for positive behavior are maintained, but this therapy also works to teach couples how to better communicate with each other and how to increase their ability to solve problems together. Unlike standard marital therapy, this version focuses on how the couple functions and on each specific issue in the relationship, with special attention given to negative behaviors that are repetitive.

Cognitive behavioral couples therapy teaches couples how to change negative behaviors by changing negative thinking. A cognitive behavioral therapist helps couples develop an increased awareness and control over what is perceived, assumptions that are made, and how interactions with each other occur. It is largely based on behavioral martial therapy, but it places more emphasis on the effects that negative thinking and false assumptions have on the behaviors causing problems for couples. Changing cognitive aspects can help couples reduce negative behaviors.

Each variation of behavioral couples therapy has the basic structure of working with certain behaviors that are not conducive to a healthy relationship between couples. The theory behind behavioral therapy is that negative behaviors cause problems in a relationship. When this therapy is applied to relationships, individuals are taught to both change the bad behaviors and also the thinking that leads to those behaviors.

There are many different types of therapy that can help couples repair a damaged relationship or create a healthier one. A behavioral therapist operates on the theories that surround behavioral therapy, regardless of which form is used. In many cases, combined behavioral couples therapy is used to address multiple problems in a relationship.

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