Couples counseling can be a helpful tool for a myriad of issues, from significant disconnection and resentment to a desire to fill your toolbox with tools to manage things that might come up later. Communication skills, conflict management, listening skills and other strategies can all help to 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 still 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 being closed to the big picture of your relationship.
- 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. There can be many obvious problematic behaviors but also potentially 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 does not yield long term positive impact. Avoid the mistake of trying to rush the therapy process.
- Therapist, Fix Us! Putting too much responsibility on the therapist to “fix” the relationship is a common mistake and understandable when couples are desperate. But real change can only occur within the relationship and with effort by both parties. You and your partner are responsible for trying to do something different outside of the therapist’s office. Avoid the mistake of over-reliance on the therapist by being the change you hope for, together.
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. Partners often believe they have good reasons for being angry, hostile, inflexible and blaming. It may initially feel impossible NOT to blame the other and be rigid in willingness to change. Couples who are suffering of course hope to find relief sooner rather than later and yes, often come in with a narrative that the therapist is the answer.
Be open, be patient and be proactive.1