Couples therapy is a valuable resource for couples facing challenges in their relationship. It provides a safe space for partners to speak about their thoughts, feelings and struggles within the relationship. However, there may be times when one or both partners end up feeling attacked or uncomfortable during couples therapy sessions. Feeling attacked can be very distressing and may even slow progress in therapy. In this article, we’ll explore why some people may feel attacked in couples therapy and also look at a few strategies to address these feelings.

Understanding Feeling Attacked

A person might feel attacked in a couple’s therapy session due to various reasons. Some of them are:

  • Differences In Expectations

Many couples are unaware of what to expect from couples therapy, especially if it’s their first experience. This can lead to unrealistic expectations, such as expecting the therapist to provide immediate solutions or expecting the therapist to take sides and ask one partner to change. When these expectations aren’t met, a person may end up feeling attacked.

  • Communication Styles

Each person has a different way of communicating, and each person has a style of receiving or interpreting communication as well. Sometimes these differences in communication styles can lead to misunderstandings or perceived attacks. For example, one partner may express themselves assertively, while the other may interpret it as aggression. In such cases, the way messages are delivered and received can contribute to feeling attacked.

  • Defensiveness

When there is constant criticism and conflict in the relationship, both partners are likely to be defensive. When someone feels defensive, they may perceive neutral or constructive feedback as an attack. Defensiveness can arise from fear of being judged, criticized, or misunderstood. Defensiveness can create a cycle where each partner feels attacked and responds defensively, leading to further conflict.

  • Underlying Issues

Past experiences of criticism in the relationship or past traumas in childhood can also contribute to someone feeling attacked. Underlying issues such as feelings of shame, and low self-esteem can lead to feelings of being attacked as well.

How To Cope With Feeling Attacked in Couple’s Therapy?

According to Dr. John Gottman, a relationship researcher, defensiveness or feeling attacked, is one of the predictors of relationship unhappiness. However, there are some strategies that one can use to overcome these feelings. They are:

  • Acknowledge Your Feelings

Take a pause and reflect on your feelings as a result of feeling attacked. Is it anger? Is it shame? Once you are aware of what you are feeling, you will be in a better position to discuss it with your partner and the therapist.

  • Talk To The Therapist

Openly discuss your feelings with your therapist. They can help you explore the underlying reasons for feeling attacked and provide strategies for addressing these emotions

  • Active Listening

Try to listen and understand your partner’s perspective without jumping to conclusions or becoming defensive. Remember that therapy is not a space to attack each other but to heal, and make progress, and it is important for you and your partner to be on the same page for that.

  • See if There Is Any Truth In The Feedback

Try to find out if your partner is genuinely trying to convey something to you through criticism or feedback.

  • Consider Individual Therapy

If you are constantly feeling attacked during couples therapy sessions, it might be coming from underlying issues that require deeper exploration. Consider individual therapy for the same. Individual therapy sessions can help you address underlying feelings and feel more comfortable in couples therapy sessions.

  • Set Boundaries

Respectful communication is key to progress in therapy. Thus, let your partner and the therapist know what style of communication is acceptable to you. Ex- Saying something like, ‘I would like you to talk in a softer tone while we have this conversation’


It is natural to feel attacked in couples therapy, especially when the therapist or your partner gives feedback on areas that can be improved from your end. However, it is also important to remember that couples therapy is a safe space for growth, and feedback is not meant to put anyone down in any way. If you are feeling attacked, it is advisable to address it with your partner and the therapist so that they can help you work through these feelings. If these feelings are recurring, you might want to consider individual therapy as well. 


  1. Defensiveness: How It Harms Relationships and How to Change. (n.d.). Choosing Therapy. Retrieved March 26, 2024, from
  2. How to Stop Being Defensive. (n.d.). Verywell Mind. Retrieved March 26, 2024, from
  3. Marriage Counseling: What Not To Say. (n.d.). Well Marriage Center. Retrieved March 26, 2024, from
Dhruva Koranne

Dhruva Koranne has completed his Masters in Applied Psychology from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, BALM. He has been practicing as a counsellor since 2020 and works to create a safe space for clients where they can open up. In addition to this, Dhruva loves researching and studying about upcoming theories in the field of Psychology. Connect with him on Linkedin