Many come into couples therapy uncertain of what will happen.
For many, this might be their first time in any kind of counseling or therapy. They don’t know what to expect from the therapist or if the therapist has unique expectations for them.
In our experience, most approach couples counseling with some apprehension. Their idea of what will transpire is shaped by what they’ve seen in TV and film. Sure, they might expect to learn a few new skills or conversational techniques. But in the back of the mind for many is an assumption that their partner is who really needs the most help.
However, these fears, apprehensions, and assumptions stifle the potential of your couples therapy session. If you go into your sessions secretly wanting the therapist to place the blame squarely on your partner’s shoulders or hoping for easy sessions that avoid taking you into deeper waters, you will not experience the fullness of what couples therapy can provide.
Your relationship is valuable. Your time and money are also valuable. Our goal at Grow My Relationship is to empower and encourage couples to seek out couples therapy to build relationships that don’t just survive but ones that thrive. Believe it or not, we don’t want you coming every week and spinning your wheels without making progress.
A little preparation goes a long way, like anything important in your life. So today, we’d like to discuss what you can do to maximize your couples therapy sessions.
What to expect from your couples counselor
People have odd expectations of therapists. We can be seen as pot stirrers, wise sages, or both at the same time.
Our primary roles are as facilitators and guides. We’ll help guide how you respond to each other while still honoring your core values and beliefs.
We are not magicians that can simply wave a wand and fix your partner or you. We help you clarify your own goals and objectives. Then we act as a coach to help and support you to achieve your goals.
We have many tools at our disposal to help you get where you want to go.
You can expect us to get to know you and use specific tools and techniques to bring out and guide you towards your best potential.
Patterns to avoid in your couples therapy sessions:
A common question people consistently ask is, “is couples counseling even effective?” Maybe they had a friend try a few sessions and didn’t see any progress. Or perhaps they have attempted themselves before and didn’t attain their desired results.
Often, these poor results and misconceptions result from couples coming in unprepared. When couples don’t have a plan, they will usually end up falling into three common but unhelpful patterns in their therapy sessions.
Pattern 1: Focusing on the idea of the moment
This is a pervasive but unproductive pattern in couple’s therapy. Couples will come into the session with the intention of focusing the conversation on whatever idea popped into their head while traveling from the office or whatever is at the forefront of their mind at the moment. While using something fresh on someone’s mind seems natural, this is a reactive response. And reacting to whatever has just happened is dealing with the fruit of an issue and not necessarily the root cause.
Pattern 2: Arriving without a direction in mind
Another typical pattern that sounds right to many couples is coming in with a “blank slate” and being open to discussing any topic. Many think that this is the best way forward. While being open to going wherever the session takes you can sometimes open exciting doors, it’s a hit-or-miss process. You could have a good session or a completely unproductive one. When you work with the best tutors and teachers, they give you work to do before their time with you. Coming in prepared and focused on a task ensures you get the most out of your time.
Pattern 3: Discussing only the latest fight
The final bad pattern is a couple coming in and wanting only to discuss the latest fight or argument. Yes, you need to deal with significant conflicts and issues that are coming up in the relationship. Being able to identify what you seek to learn before describing a fight can keep the discussions productive and focuses you on developing new skills.
Preparation: the key to successful couples therapy.
To avoid falling into these patterns, here are some things to reflect on before each meeting:
- Take a moment to pause and reflect on why you’re in therapy and your objectives for seeking help. It is helpful to reflect on what you want to learn, why that is important to you, and how motivated you are to apply what you learn. Although these questions are not easy, they are extremely valuable.
- Think about what next steps are required to become the partner you aspire to be, which will, in turn, help support you in reaching the relationship you desire.
These might sound simple. But stopping to really reflect in this way takes effort. It’s doubtful you would show up unprepared for an especially important meeting at work. Preparation and intention are critical in couples counseling. Clarity of direction gives you more bang for your counseling buck.
Goals to strive for in couples counseling
The following three questions help clarify and sharpen our focus.
First: What kind of relationship do you want to be in and create if you stay together? What kind of relationship makes you glad to see each other at the end of the day?
Interestingly, most couples who created their own wedding vows describe a marriage that could serve as the North Star for the kind of relationship they want to co-create.
If you wrote your own vows, how well do you remember them?
Identifying the kind of relationship you desire to be in is the target, the bigger picture of why we are meeting. Otherwise we’re just going to jump in and try to solve problems without any idea how these problems fit into a bigger picture of where you’re headed.
You don’t start packing for a trip unless you have an idea where you’re going or how long you’re going to be there.
Second: Why is this kind of relationship important to you?
It takes motivation to do the heavy lifting that’s going to grow your relationship.
It’s often said, “When we lose our why, we lose our way.”
Couples work is a lot more than coming in and complaining about what your partner does and then hoping for a miracle. It’s human nature to want progress without effort or emotional risk. However, desire without effort creates lifeless marriages.
Third: What’s required of you, not your partner, to create an ideal marriage?
The sooner you start identifying what’s required of you, not what’s required of your partner, you are on the way to the fast track of creating change.
It is human to develop self-protections and coping mechanisms that inhibit individual growth.
Your barriers can be those that you’ve created since you got together or that resulted from negative early life experiences.
Common barriers to growth are a quick temper, being critical, guilting, disengaging, not being dependable, being furious instead of curious, etc.
How do you measure success in couples counseling?
Our main aim as counselors is to increase your knowledge about yourself, your partner, and how you interact together as a couple. Sessions can be seen as successful when you’re able to apply this new knowledge in your daily life to break old and ineffective patterns that were holding you back.
We’d like to thank you for researching counseling and being active in supporting your relationship. When you’re ready to take the next step and book a couples counseling session, we’re here for you.