How to Get the Most out of Couples Therapy
Previously, we looked at ways to build a strong relationship with your partner. Even strong couples, who practice all the best approaches, can sometimes use some extra help. This is when couples counseling can be helpful. When you look for a couples counselor, watch for these ten ingredients that will help make your couples counseling the most productive:
1: Your couples counselor meets you where you are.
Some couples attend counseling to start their relationship off right, to maintain the relationship, or to strengthen the relationship. Other couples attend counseling when they have reached a major impasse and need intensive help to improve the relationship. Whatever your reason for seeking therapy, a quality couples counselor will meet you wherever you are to address your particular relationship needs.
2: Your couples therapist helps you set goals.
When you start therapy, you may be coming in with many concerns that you want to address. A good couples therapist will help you to set goals for the work you will do together. These goals will usually represent what you and your partner want to achieve during treatment. It could be goals such as “improving communication.” The goals will become a roadmap for the therapy work. They will help make each session as productive as possible because you will always start with a clear direction.
3: Your therapist helps you revisit goals.
As you work through couples therapy, you will hopefully accomplish the goals you set out with. A good couples therapist will help you revisit your goals to see where you have been, where you are at, and where you still want to go. This will ensure the therapy remains productive. It also provides an opportunity to revise goals as you make improvement and identify areas for continued growth.
4: Your counselor helps bring focus back to the goals.
When you are in couples counseling, you might uncover past hurts and conflicts. Both you and your partner may experience and express strong emotions. Couples counseling works best when these past hurts are tied back to your goals for couples therapy and the focus remains on moving forward and growing in your relationship. It is helpful when the regrets and hurts are used to learn and resolve conflicts, rather than just lingering on the past or present emotions. A good couples counselor will ask how the content of what you talk about in the session fits with your goals to bring you back to your main focus of the session.
5: Your couples therapist asks lots of questions.
When you attend couples counseling, you could end up carrying on the same discussions (and arguments) just in a new venue. However, a skilled couples counselor will help change the dialogue. They will ask questions to help each partner make discoveries about themselves and the relationship. This can help to resolve old conflicts and patterns, so you can move forward to new discussions.
6: Your couples counseling helps you develop new skills.
Couples usually go to counseling because they want to improve their relationship. Often, in order to improve, partners need to use skills and techniques. These can help with communication, decision-making, and planning. One good ingredient for couples counseling is a therapist who will teach you new skills. Your counselor will help you learn these and practice new skills in session, then ask you to try them out in your daily life. They will check to see how these skills are working and help you make them into habits.
7: Your couples counselor will help you learn to solve your own problems.
Chances are when you start couples counseling, you do not plan to be in therapy forever. Good couples counselors know that as they work with you, they will put themselves out of a job. That is because, in addition to teaching you new skills, they will also help you learn how to solve your own problems. They will equip you with strategies and confidence to successfully communicate and work through any problems you face. This allows you to eventually leave therapy able to maintain a good relationship.
8: Your couples therapist will help to maintain an atmosphere of respect.
Sometimes when couples enter counseling it is because their relationship has reached a point of difficult and even hurtful interaction. Occasionally one or both partners may be at a point where they are so unhappy they fling hurtful comments or display contempt towards their partner. These behaviors are not helpful and will only worsen the state of the relationship. A good couples counselor will help to maintain respect in the therapy room and help you translate that attitude into daily life.
9: Your couples counselor will give equal time to each partner.
You can imagine that it might be challenging for a couples counselor to make sure that each partner has equal time and space in the session, but it is important that things are kept fairly equal. A skilled therapist will maintain the balance and check in with each partner during the session to ensure that they feel heard. They will also be impartial to the two parties by not taking sides with either partner.
10: Your therapist will be accepting of your relationship values.
Every therapist grows up in their own culture and values system. During their education and training they learn to understand values different from their own and they develop the ability to see the world through other value systems. They learn to set aside and not impose their values on others. When you attend couples counseling, an important ingredient is being able to feel safe and accepted by your therapist.
In most instances, the right couples counselor for you will understand and affirm your relationship values (including same sex couples or polyamorous relationships). Exceptions to this would include relationships with abuse or other unhealthy behaviors that might harm one or both couples. Then, the therapist will work with you to make the relationship safe and supportive for both parties.
As you start looking for the right couples counselor, research online for the options in your area. Simply search for what you need and your location (for example, “psychotherapist in Brooklyn”). As you meet with your couples counselor, you can ask questions, and make sure this person is a good fit for both partners. When you get going in therapy, your counselor will act as a consultant or guide. They will equip you to work on your relationship even outside of session, so you can grow and make positive changes.