The classic forms of psychotherapy assume that illnesses, symptom formation or difficulties in interpersonal contact are the expression of a disorder in the individual. In contrast, couples therapy and family therapy assume that the problem signals a disorder in the relationship system. Since relationships can be better assessed and treated when both partners are present, couples therapy is always a matter for both partners. It does not matter whether only one partner is negatively affected in some way ("symptom carrier"), since both partners are seen to be maintaining the symptoms in a common, usually non-conscious interaction.
The mechanism of this interaction will be explored in the presence of both partners. Both learn to deal with each other in a new, constructive way. All hurtful behaviours can be altered. Partners learn that a certain behaviour diplayed by their loved one must not necessarily trigger an ingrained response in them.
In a couple's therapy, it is carefully avoided to blame one of the participants for the problems. There are no scapegoats in a partnership conflict. It is always a shared problem.
Couples therapy assumes that both partners still have an interest in maintaining the relationship. If the therapist realises that a partnership is not only burdened by relationship problems, but also by an unsolved early problem of one partner, he can additionally or exclusively recommend individual therapy. Couples therapy is appropriate for almost all acute and chronic relationship disorders.