Couples counseling can be a helpful tool for a myriad of issues, from significant disconnection and resentment to do a simple check-in to be sure things are going well. Stress, life changes and other circumstances can put strain on any relationship. Getting a refresher on communication skills, conflict management and doing a temperature check on the emotional safety can get couples back on track.
In my private practice, I’ve noticed an uptick of couples who report they don’t have major issues but want to attend counseling as a preventative measure. And yes, there are also those who come exasperated, angry, hurt and wondering if their relationship can be saved. Or if they want to.
If you’re planning on investing the time, energy and money on therapy, there are a few things you might want to be mindful of before embarking on the process.
3 Mistakes Couples Make in Relationship Counseling
The Blame Game
Starting therapy with a rigid attitude that the problems in the relationship are only the fault of the other is problematic. Both partners ALWAYS play a role in some way. Be willing to be open to how you might be contributing to the dynamic. Your concerns about the other are valid and will be heard but for the best possible outcome you will need to be willing to hold a mirror up to yourself as well.
Avoid the mistake of not being open to the big picture of your relationship.
If you are able to pull the lens out further onto your relationship, you might see some things you didn’t realize were there. Is your partner in pain and not speaking about it but acting out in other ways? Have you been showing up as your best?
Are We Done Yet?
It’s often human nature to want to get to find a solution and get to the end ASAP. In couples counseling, there can be many layers to the issues at hand. It’s easy to get over-focused on the symptoms (problematic behaviors, etc) but it’s important not to ignore historical roots from family of origin experiences that shape who we are in relationship. Untangling these roots can take a little time and a bandaid approach will not yield long term positive impact. Sometimes family of origin work for one or both in the relationship can be helpful.
Avoid the mistake of trying to rush the therapy process.
It often takes time for disconnection and resentment to unwind the closeness a couple feels. Adequate time to understand and address these issues is important.
Therapist, Fix Us!
Putting too much responsibility on the therapist to “fix” the relationship is a common mistake and understandable when couples are desperate. Though in some cases one person can be a catalyst for change, having both parties on board for this effort is ideal. You and your partner are responsible for working towards understanding why you are struggling and trying to do something different outside of the therapist’s office.
Avoid the mistake of over-reliance on the therapist to be the change you hope for or magically solve your issues.
Considering the amount of time you are with your therapist compared to the amount of time you are in life with your partner. Weekly sessions can highlight the dynamic, the emotional process under the content and provide guidance. But you need to be the agents for change.
If you make any of the above errors, it doesn’t mean all is lost and couples therapy can’t help you get back on track. You can always course correct. Partners often believe they have good reasons for being angry, hostile, inflexible and that the other is to blame. You may have such a strong focus on this that it’s hard to hold a mirror up to yourself, initially. Look carefully, sometimes the ways couples interact in a dynamic are not always clear, especially when someone’s behavior stands out. Couples who are suffering and want relief can be desperate and may really wish that the therapist could wave a “magic wand” over their situation.
Be open, be patient and be proactive.