Couples Therapy’s Growing Problem: Weaponized Therapy-Speak

More couples are in therapy now than ever – and that’s mostly a good thing. But there is a darker side to the recent uptick in therapy. More and more people are weaponizing therapy-speak – using concepts from psychology to mask genuinely toxic behaviors. So, is more people in more therapy a good thing – or can all that emotion-talk be a trap?


More people and more couples are in therapy now than ever – and that’s mostly a good thing. The normalization of prioritizing our own mental health and getting help working through the tough parts of a relationship are both vital steps toward couples staying in it for the long haul.

But there is a darker side to the recent uptick in therapy. More and more people are weaponizing therapy-speak – using concepts from psychology to mask genuinely toxic behaviors. So, is more people in more therapy a good thing – or can all that emotion-talk be a trap? Here’s our take on the rise of couples therapy – and when seemingly good intentions may be hiding something not-so-good.

For a long time, couples therapy has been painted as a last ditch effort – reserved for long-married couples at the end of their rope – or couples in crisis. But just like the stigma around individual therapy has shifted dramatically in recent years – becoming a vital part of any self-care routine – this former image of couples therapy has been broken, too.

Research published this year shows us that people are generally expecting more from their relationships nowadays – and that they’re more distressed when their relationships aren’t going to plan.

And a lot of this is generational. According to research, ‘millennials are the therapy generation’, and represent a large percentage of both individuals and couples in therapy. A lot of young people are even seeking relationship counseling before tying the knot. Counselor Natasha Silverman notes that younger generations are much more educated and aware of what to look for in a partner and in themselves, saying – “I often see people who have done a relationship quiz or an attachment style quiz and realize that something about their patterns isn’t quite right. Older couples were not offered that information and it was normal to not be overwhelmingly happy in a relationship.”

It also used to be especially hard to get men, specifically, into therapy. A way lower percentage of men attend therapy, even now – but that number is increasing. And this uptick in couples attending therapy together means that more men are being seen by professionals – so more men are becoming aware of their issues, and getting help to work on them. But now – many women are speaking out online about having men turn this around on them – by using their newfound therapy language as a weapon. And professionals are sounding the alarm that when put into the wrong hands therapy can become dangerous.

Raquel Savage: Therapy is not an appropriate resource for abusers because it teaches them how to be more sophisticated as abusers. - @healingwithraquel__ /TikTok

Therapy isn’t just a quick fix – especially couples’ therapy. It requires putting in the work – and constantly examining ourselves to ensure we’re not just “co-opting” the new terms we learn and are actually healing ourselves and our partners.

A common problem emerging is that the language of therapy is being used in lieu of seeking actual help.

So even when people aren’t in therapy – the fact that this language has become so readily available means people can “diagnose” others without being qualified to do so, or without even knowing the person they’re passing judgment on.

Kimberly: A lot of the girls I talk to are shocked when I tell them that guy they’re seeing who’s been f*cking them around is actually a narcissist. - @ask_kimberly /TikTok

Although it’s great that more people are aware of mental health, and can spot problems in relationships, the risk is that people are over-diagnosing – or even misusing words entirely.

For example, the term ‘gaslighting’ has been appropriated in contexts where people just feel a little unhappy about how the conversation is going, thus defeating its original purpose of denoting when a person’s reality is being completely undermined.

Kaitlyn Bristowe: Katie gaslighting is a very strong term, so explain that.

Katie Thurston: Gaslighting is when you try to make someone else feel like it’s their fault! - Bachelorette

The trouble with this co-option of therapy-speak is that it undermines people who’ve actually experienced it, and popularizing false definitions of psychological abuse tactics can actually make it more difficult for people who have experienced those tactics to identify them.

Another way that therapy talk becomes toxic is when people use it to legitimize their own toxicity. Some partners see therapy as a get-out clause – thinking that if they go and spill their thoughts to a therapist, they’ll be validated and have done the work.

Another therapy tool that’s being twisted is “armchair diagnosing.” In a toxic partnership, telling someone they need therapy is used as an insult – a new, faux-caring way of calling them crazy.

Ana: The implication being that you’re too mentally unwell, and you need to get help, but the intention being to hurt rather than to actually help. - Ana Psychology /YouTube

On the flipside, Prince Harry explained that his wife Meghan Markle gently suggested he attend therapy after they had an argument. Ultimately – it helped Harry – something he talks about heavily in his autobiography, Spare.

When used correctly – and for the right reasons – therapy can strengthen and save relationships. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists reports a success rate of 98% for couples who go through marriage counseling – which has undoubtedly led to a decrease in divorce rates.

Many people are now coming to realize that marriage isn’t the happy ending we were sold by Disney. It’s actually the beginning of a lot of hard work – bringing two lives together is tough, especially when, for many of us, it involves undoing a lot of past trauma that stems all the way back to childhood. And some relationships simply can’t – or won’t – weather that storm.

In his book ‘Us’, psychotherapist Terrence Real says that couples need therapy in order to break down the instinctive idea of ‘me vs you’ and become an us. We ultimately model our relationships on the issues our parents imparted on us. So it’s vital – if we want to avoid passing on these issues to the next generation – that we go to therapy to resolve them.

Terry Real: Well, we all marry our unfinished business. We all marry our mothers and fathers. - Seattle Anxiety

Ultimately it’s a good thing that so many more people are interested in getting help – and that the practice has been normalized by high profile couples. And the popularity of couple’s therapy doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon – with the rise of what The Atlantic’s Eliza Brooke calls “therapy voyeurism” – the entertainment of watching others in therapy. She suggests that the simple act of watching Showtime’s docu-series Couples Therapy could actually help people and encourage them to seek it out for themselves.

Michael: It’s two people trying to make it through life together as partners and they’re each contributing whatever they can in whatever way they can. - Couples Therapy

It seems – along with traditional therapy – more people are seeking out new ways to connect with their partners and strengthen their relationships. ‘Ours’ a live counseling slash learning module hybrid app is looking to make couples therapy easier, more accessible, and most importantly more successful for those who use it. With something this important on the line, we need to make getting therapy right a priority. We can’t just use therapy, or therapy-speak, in a way that confirms our own biases. Couples therapy shouldn’t become a way of getting one over on our partners: it should be a means of becoming a better team.