1. Thou shalt not blame, shame, or criticize your partner in therapy. Come to therapy each time prepared to learn what you can do to be a better partner. Ask not what your partner can do for you, but what you can do for your partner.
2. Thou shalt take ownership of making your relationship the best it can be. You can’t rely on your partner to think of what to talk about each week or make him or her drag you unwillingly to therapy like a rebellious teen. You are as responsible for making your relationship improve as your partner is, and if you don’t like something, take the initiative to suggest an improvement.
3. Thou shalt endeavor at all times to protect the relational space from toxic pollution. The relational space is both intangible and palpable. You can feel it when you’re in the presence of a couple even though there’s nothing physically to see. You pollute it with criticism; you purify it by seeing what is right rather than what is wrong in each other. Don’t waste your therapy dollars polluting your space.
4. Thou shalt not keep secrets from each other or your therapist. "You’re only as sick as your secrets” is a favorite 12-step saying that also applies to couple's work. You can learn in couple’s therapy the marvelous life lesson that facing the truth is always better than avoiding it: Your relationship will get stronger from the intimacy created by speaking tough truths. Say what you mean; don’t say it mean.
5. Thou shalt not come to therapy with a bomb to drop on your partner. It’s natural to save tough conversations for couple’s therapy. But tell your partner ahead of time what you have in mind so they don’t feel ambushed in the office.
6. Thou shalt not wait for permission from your partner to say what you want. Be strong enough in yourself to say what you want without asking for permission, even if you know your partner might have objections. Otherwise, your partner has to both deal with your desires and take care of you for feeling uncomfortable wanting them.
7. Thou shalt not mind read nor expect your partner to mind read. You may think you know what your partner is really feeling but unless you’re telepathic you should always check it out. Conversely, don’t assume your partner knows what you’re thinking or feeling unless you have said it.
8. Thou shalt nurture the positive in your relationship at least as much as focus on the negative. Couples often come to therapy thinking they need to focus on all that’s wrong. You don’t. Your relationship will improve much more, and faster, if you focus at least as much on what’s right as you do on what’s wrong.
9. Thou shalt remember the small child living inside your adult partner’s body. Whenever your partner acts in a way that makes no sense to you, be curious about what is going on for the little child inside. Everyone makes sense, all of the time, and if you think they don’t you’re either missing information or trying to impose your value system onto them.
10. Thou shalt expect challenges, to the point of wanting to give up. There usually comes a point in therapy when the magic of having some outside adult help you with your relationship wears off, and you feel stuck with the same problems you came in with. There is no way back at this point — you have to continue to move forward. Often the job of a therapist is to hold the hope you need until you can reconnect with it yourself. Until you do reconnect, it will feel like a slog. Just like slogging it out is part of marriage, it's part of therapy, too.
Check Psychology Today’s directory of therapists for a professional near you.
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