Deciding to go to couples therapy is one of the best things you will ever do for your family. Every couple goes through difficult times in their relationship, but it’s not necessary to go through it alone.
You and your partner may feel you should be able to work through anything on your own, or you may think having conflicts is a sign your relationship is doomed.
Neither of those ideas is true. Even when two people love each other deeply, they don’t always have the knowledge it takes to resolve conflicts or express themselves in a positive way.
With the guidance of a couples therapist, you and your partner can learn the skills you need to communicate effectively and create the positive, supportive relationship you want.
What Happens in Couples Therapy?
Understanding what does not happen in therapy puts many people’s minds at ease. Going to therapy is not about blaming, criticizing, airing a laundry list of complaints, or taking sides. Your therapist is a neutral third party who wants the best for you and your relationship. The therapist’s job is to listen closely and help the two of you work through conflicts and increase positive communication.
Therapy can be an emotionally challenging experience. One person may be more enthusiastic about seeking counseling than the other, and you both know the process could be fraught with difficulty. The good news is that 60 to 70% of couples report improvement in their relationships even without long-term therapy.
The Importance of the First Session
Your therapist can’t help you address your issues if he or she doesn’t know what they are. The first session is typically a time for the therapist to get to know you and vice versa. Usually, during therapy, clients do the bulk of the talking while the therapist guides and listens.
During the first session, you can expect the therapist to ask a lot of questions about your relationship, including the history of your romance and any ongoing conflicts.
Some of the questions you can expect to be asked include the following:
- How long have you been together?
- Why are you seeking professional help now?
- Have you been to therapy before, either independently or as a couple?
- Do you have children?
- What is the outcome you are hoping for with counseling?
- How important is it for you to save your relationship? (If applicable)
This “get to know you” session serves two important purposes. First, it gives couples an opportunity to get an impression of the therapist and make sure they feel confident working with them.
If it doesn’t feel like a good fit, that doesn’t mean therapy isn’t a good idea. It may simply mean you don’t mesh with that therapist’s style or personality. The solution is to work with a different therapist, not to give up on therapy.
The second purpose of the initial meeting is for the therapist to assess your needs. Just like a medical doctor needs to know about your health history and symptoms, a couple’s therapist also needs to gather background information on your relationship issues to inform treatment.
Once they have a good understanding of your strengths and challenges as a couple, the therapist can develop a customized treatment plan for effective therapy.
Going forward, you can expect a recommendation of weekly 50-minute sessions while you’re getting started. Depending on your unique needs, the therapist may also recommend alternating individual therapy sessions with couples sessions. If you have children, family therapy may also be recommended.
How to Get the Most from Couples Therapy
Therapy isn’t a passive experience where you sit silently while someone else fixes your relationship. It also isn’t a place to repeat the same arguments you have at home. Therapy takes dedication and participation by both parties to ensure progress.
Your therapist will ask you to practice tools during the session and may also suggest homework. Homework reinforces the skills you’re learning in therapy.
Integrating therapy techniques into your daily life helps ensure you can continue to function positively as a couple once therapy is over. No matter how skilled your therapist is, ultimately, the outcome of counseling is up to you and your partner.
To help you get the most from the counseling experience, consider these tips:
Be Open to Growth
It’s easy to blame someone else for relationship problems, but it’s much harder to take an honest look at how you’ve contributed to a problem. Being open to your own growth is a necessary part of couples therapy.
This may be the perfect time to address past trauma or other mental health concerns you have been avoiding. Accept that your own behaviors and habits may be adding to the dysfunction of your relationship, and be willing to take the steps toward personal growth.
Agree on a Goal
If you and your partner can’t agree on why you’re going to therapy before the first appointment, that’s all right. It may take a few sessions to align your goals as a couple. Therapy goals don’t have to be complicated. Something simple, like, “We want a happier relationship,” gives you and your therapist a starting point.
Going to therapy means you will be asked to change and grow. Hopefully, it also means you’re willing to change and grow as a couple. The process can often be emotionally painful. Confronting your relationship challenges can bring up personal insecurities and past issues that have not yet been resolved.
It may be necessary to look at your own behaviors or to reveal things that could hurt your partner’s feelings. When things get difficult, it’s important to trust the counseling process and your therapist.
Commit the Time and Money
Therapy isn’t a quick fix. It may take several months of weekly sessions before you and your partner feel confident that you can use the new skills you’ve learned without the safety net of therapy to catch you. Scheduling for two people, especially if you have childcare coverage to consider, can be difficult.
Therapy is also a financial investment. Skipping sessions to save money probably won’t benefit you in the long run. When you compare the cost of therapy to buying new furniture, taking a family vacation, or getting a divorce, it puts the financial investment in perspective.
Call Blackhawk Family Development Center for Couples Counseling
If you and your partner are stuck in a loop of the same old arguments, or if you have been unable to resolve major issues alone, couples counseling at Blackhawk Family Development can help. Contact us today to learn more about our family and couples counseling services.