How to Make Couples Therapy Work for You

You are your partner are struggling.  Perhaps your disconnection is significant or maybe you feel committed to the relationship but see red flags that need addressing.  Couples therapy is not only for couples who can’t figure out how to make change on their own.  It can also be useful for insightful couples not feeling quite right and want some help identifying potential blind spots by someone trained in relationship dynamics.

The most successful couples therapy experiences often involve two people who are still invested in the relationship but not necessarily so.  Wherever you and your partner exist on the continuum, there are some important considerations to ponder to have the best chance of making couples therapy work for you.

  • Clarify your hopes.  Therapists will often ask you in the beginning what you hope to get from the therapy process.  Couples can have entirely different agendas and a good starting point is at the very least be clear on what you each hope to gain from the experience.  If you don’t know, that’s ok too.
  • Be clear on the role of the therapist.  It’s not uncommon for people to assume (or hope) that the therapist will “fix” the situation.  Unless he/she has a very special magic wand under their chair, this is not possible.  The therapist’s role is to guide, identify feelings and needs, find ways to alleviate distress, help create a more secure bond (if resolution is desired) and provide education for couples to carry the work outside the walls of the therapy office itself.
  • Get ready to look in the mirror.  How are you contributing to the dynamic of the relationship?  What are you doing that might be creating insecurity rather than stability?  The first step is ownership but willingness to do things differently is equally important.
  • Be clear of your job in therapy.  If it’s reconciliation and relationship strengthening you seek, effort is required at home to apply the tools learned in session.  It’s important to prioritize the relationship by making the time to do so.  This can be really challenging with busy lives but even a few minutes spent on attempting to connect and healing can begin to shift the dynamic between you.
  • Have a shovel standing by.  You might need to do some digging into your past.  When people struggle in their intimate relationships, there are usually significant clues in your family of origin experiences with parents or primary caregivers in what messages you received about how to “be” in relationship.  The past can’t be changed but it’s important to identify any unhelpful belief systems about self and others that might have been learned in your family of origin.
  • Be open to possibility of the need for individual growth.  If you or your partner are unhappy or have other issues not related to the relationship (depression, anxiety, other emotional health concerns), these issues are not the individual’s alone.  Your relationship will bear the brunt of the personal distress in some way.  Consider ways to alleviate the situation with the support of the other.
  • Plan to keep working on it.  If you’ve finished up your therapy work with a positive outcome, don’t let the lessons, new habits and improved connection slip away.  Healthy relationships require care and attention.  Continue to find ways to prioritize your relationship.

Couples therapy can be many things.  It can be healing, connecting, relieving, joy filling and peace giving.  It can also be frustrating, painful, exasperating and tense.  And yes, sometimes it’s not enough to save a marriage or relationship in a high level of distress.  But if this a path you would like to try, it’s helpful to be prepared by being as clear as possible about what to expect from all parties involved.

–> DIY Tip:  If getting into counseling is challenging for you at this time, whether it be cost, accessibility or other concerns, begin with my therapist created tool for couples, The Marriage Refresher Course Workbook for Couples, to help strengthen your relationship foundation.