Irene Wu, 28, and Dillon Tang, 24, had not been together for a year when they started couples therapy. The couple, who are from Los Angeles, started seeing each other in the early days of the lockdown, when severe growing pains set in. They found themselves arguing constantly and their different communication styles confused them both. Specifically, Wu said: “Dillon seemed ‘to care’ nothing, while I give a parcel fuck.
“We were almost going to call him,” Wu recalls. But then something changed. “I was talking to Dillon about my therapy appointment one day, and he asked me, ‘So when are we going to do couples counseling? “”
Wu and Tang did not share a child, pet, or even a room. The length of their engagement itself could have easily made for a clean breakup, but instead they self-prescribed in couples therapy.
Ten years ago, the young couple might have been considered an anomaly, but Wu and Tang represent the millions of millennials for whom professional help has become fundamental in maintaining mental health. The American Psychiatric Association recently reported that 37% of Gen Z have sought counseling, followed closely by Millennials at 35%, and therapists believe the shift to view mental health as something that needs to be done. maintained – rather than just in times of crisis – has also changed the way young people perceive their relationships.
“In general, the younger generations tend to feel less ashamed about seeing a therapist and to improve and share their feelings,” says Simone Bose, relationship counselor for Relate, a UK counseling charity. to couples. “Often, one of them has already been in individual therapy and suggests they take relationship counseling together, ”she says.
Lisa Hochberger’s clients’ motives for therapy vary, but recently almost all of them have shared one thing in common: Like Hochberger herself, they are under 35.
“Young people no longer want to turn to alcohol, food, drugs or partying to keep them calm,” she says. “These young people want to prevent themselves from living a life like their parents who may not have had access to their unconscious pain and trauma.”
The numbers back it up: A 2017 survey by MidAmerica Nazarene University estimated 51% of millennials aged 23 to 38 who received couples therapy, with couples aged 25 to 30 making up the majority of people. undergoing therapy. And in 2018, charity council Relate revealed a 30% increase in the number of UK customers under 40 in four years.
But while married couples typically take at least six years to seek professional help with problems in their relationships, the pandemic may have sped things up, forcing couples to cohabit early and self-quarantine. .
Missourians Emily, 28, and Katie, 31 (last names withheld for confidentiality reasons) had been dating for two years and were living apart when they first sought therapy. Faced with the prospect of moving in together during the pandemic, the two couldn’t get along. Emilie thought moving in was the natural next phase of their relationship (plus it would bring cheaper living expenses), while Katie recoiled. Coming to a dead end, Emily gave Katie three options: prove you love me and live with me, break up, or seek outside advice. They chose option three.
“The problem that brought us here turned out to be related to a whole host of other ‘problems’, as are most responses to trauma,” explains Emily. “A lot of things happened that I never predicted we would talk about, which is truly terrifying and intimate.”
The couple were forced to address disparities in their approaches to monogamy, finances and even friendships. Emily needed stability and control, while Katie closely protected her freedom.
“We were sort of at that crossroads in the road and if something didn’t change between us, we were definitely headed for the breakup,” Katie adds.
After Katie and Emily’s first shoot, a sense of relief set in.
“Having someone there to help us feel validated and be there for our relationship was good,” says Emily. “It’s like the way yoga instructors always say, ‘Thanks for getting on the mat today.’ I think just making a commitment to come to the therapy process was a huge turning point for us. “
Couples therapy has also become more visible in popular culture over the past five years – with a growing number of very popular books, podcasts and TV shows that allow viewers to see the therapeutic process as real life. couples cross it. From Where should we start from Esther Perel to couples therapy and Love, Sex, Goop, these shows offer a nuanced description of the therapy; who needs it; and why – break the taboo to do so.
This contrasts sharply with the romantic beliefs that many millennials grew up with. Between Victorian literature and modern Hollywood romantic comedy, the concept that our significant other should be “ideal in all respects” has been sold to us for centuries. Now recognizing these beliefs as unrealistic, young people are recruiting outside help to redefine their expectations.
“All relationships begin with fantasy,” says Laura Day, author of the best-selling self-help book Welcome to Your Crisis.. Fantasies include how the relationship will change us, how the other will make us feel, how the couple will alleviate our individual vulnerabilities and challenges – and all of this only lasts for the time of the fantasy.
For our ancestors, this fantasy gave way to resigned discontent.
“Older generations see therapy as treatment for mental illness, you have to have a problem and be mentally ill to seek a therapist,” says relationship counselor Lia Holmgren. “Now couples in love fear it will end and can learn communication skills and understand each other better at the beginning. “
Chelsea, a 31-year-old New York-based communications consultant, was happy in her relationship when she decided to seek therapy. But with marriage on the cards, she and her partner wanted to put their “Better foot forward”.
“Just as we know each other, we usually don’t have a forum to talk about how we feel, how we’ve been brought up, or specific issues we’d like to work on in our relationship,” she says. “I feel like couples therapy has an unfair reputation as being a last resort, but if you’re going to be in therapy with your partner as a last resort, it might be too late.”
After a year of therapy, Wu admits that she and Tang are “very different people” than they were when they first started dating. Their therapist often urged the couple to unravel all of the past arguments from the previous week and identify their catalyst. During the first few sessions, Irene says they went back to the “honeymoon phase”. While at times Dillon can feel misunderstood and Irene misunderstood, therapy has given the couple the tools to express these emotions.
Chelsea believes therapy is the “best investment” she and her husband have made in their partnership. “What started out as a prenuptial project with a finished timeline has turned into something that has been fully integrated into our daily lives.”
Emily and Katie have continued their therapy and are now approaching six months with their therapist. The anxiety about the engagement has dissipated and the couple have since moved in together. “I feel closer to Katie than I ever have been,” says Emily. “I don’t mean to say that I feel invincible, but it definitely makes me feel a lot more present and loving.”
After 12 sessions, the initial lack of communication that plagued Irene Wu’s relationship improved dramatically. She learned about her triggers, how to stop past trauma from influencing her behavior, and that her boyfriend’s nonchalance should not be confused with disinterest.
“We accept and love each other for our differences,” Wu explains. “I was more patient and he learned to understand my emotions better. At the end of the day, we both want the same thing.