Seeking help from a couple’s counselor? This is a scary step for any couple.
Yet it could be the step that saves your relationship and which keeps you out of divorce court.
If you start counseling early enough you may not even get to the point where you have to “save” your relationship. You may only have to strengthen it. Indeed, many therapists wish couples would reach out to them before they’re in active crisis.
If you’ve chosen your therapist and have set the date of your first session, here are the next steps you should take to ensure your session is as productive as possible.
Be Invested in the Process
Couple’s therapy is rarely successful unless both members of the couple are invested in the process. You should at least be willing to take your experiences here as an opportunity for learning and growth.
Going to couple’s therapy is not the mark of a failed relationship. It’s not an expression of weakness. In fact, choosing to go and ask for help learning the skills that it takes to have a successful relationship is a marker of loving strength.
Being invested in the process means you’re going to be open and honest as you answer the therapist’s questions. You’re going to abide by the ground rules the therapist sets. If you are assigned exercises or given tools to use then you’re going to use them. Making a commitment to do all of these things, in advance, is the only way that your couple’s counseling sessions will have a chance at helping you meet your goals.
When you choose to go to therapy you are choosing to make investments of both time, money, and vulnerability in the success of your relationship. This is a powerful thing.
Is your partner a little less invested in the process than you are? Don’t get mad. Just express your sincere appreciation to your partner that they are willing to go with you. Even that tiny bit of gratitude could lighten their mood and make them happier about coming to the table.
Remember, it won’t be your job to get your partner to talk. That’s all on your therapist.
Ideally, you and your spouse will have shared goals for couples counseling. Yet it’s not unusual for individuals to have different goals.
“You could be going into counseling hopeful the relationship is worth fighting for, while your partner is not so sure. This could make your initial goals a bit different from each other. It doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed.” –Biltmore Psychology and Counseling
Common goals for couples counseling include:
- Learning to communicate better.
- Learning to make conflict productive instead of problematic.
- Learning how to identify needs and get them met.
- Learning how to be candid with one another.
- Learning how to heal from certain marriage betrayals, like adultery or financial infidelity.
- Find out what it takes to make each member of the couple feel safe in the relationship.
- Come to a better understanding of where each member of the couple is coming from.
- Replace destructive habits with constructive ones.
- Conquer sexual problems or frustrations.
- To prevent further damage to the relationship.
- Rekindle the romance.
It may help to write down your goals and hopes for counseling so that you may share them with your counselor and with your spouse.
Know What to Expect at the First Session
Few matters will get resolved at the first session.
Instead, the therapist will spend the session asking some questions that will lay the groundwork for future appointments.
You may be asked to talk about how you met and what drew you to your partner. You may also be asked to talk about the state of your relationship today, and to give the therapist some idea of what you’re hoping to accomplish with them.
The therapist may also ask about your past, including other relationships you’ve had in the past, as well as your relationships with your family.
Answer openly, honestly, and to the best of your ability. This will help the therapist get a full and complete picture of issues that might be impacting your relationship.
A good, professional therapist will not “pick sides.” They will try to remain as unbiased as possible so they can guide each conversation successfully.
Be Ready to Focus on Your Own Changes, Not Just Your Partner’s
Ultimately, you cannot control the degree to which your partner embraces the therapeutic process. You also don’t want to make therapy one more thing for you and your partner to fight over.
You can make the suggested changes yourself. Often, when one member of the couple begins to change the other member of the couple begins to make their own changes in response. Often it only takes one person’s commitment to healthy habits to prompt the other to respond in a healthier way.
For example, if you stop making accusatory, “you always” style statements in conflict, then your partner will in turn spend much less time defending themselves in your next argument. This could make the overall argument more productive and easier to navigate.
Get Committed to the Process
It can 12 to 18 months of therapy before you and your partner truly work through all the issues you need to work through. You’re not going to get everything done in one or two sessions.
Let therapy proceed and unfold at its own pace. Know that it’s going to take time and be ready to be patient with that.
How to Tell if Couples Therapy is “Working”
Every time you and your partner communicate better, spend more time together, or are happier in one another’s company you’ve achieved a victory together. As long as therapy is helping you see improvements then it is in fact working.
There’s no “endpoint” for deciding when you’ve “arrived” at the perfect, healthy relationship. Yet it is possible to make measurable process just by observing whether or not you feel happier and more centered. Eventually you should notice that you and your partner are doing a better job of pulling together for common goals.
So take heart, and approach your first session with an attitude of optimism and openness! This could be the best thing you and your spouse do for one another this year.