Six Ways to Make Couples Therapy Work for You
Following these tips will help you get the most out of couples therapy.
Posted May 23, 2016
Have you ever wondered if couples therapy could help you and your partner resolve an ongoing conflict, learn to communicate better, or reach new levels of intimacy? Couples therapy can do each of these things, but only if you avoid common traps and pitfalls. Here are six ways to make couples therapy work for you.
1. Don't wait too long. When I worked as a couples therapist, it was not uncommon for one member of a couple to let slip that they'd already consulted an attorney about a divorce. Sometimes both members of the couple had "lawyered up." It seemed they wanted to be able to say they had tried everything, but really they had already made up their minds and wanted out. Couples therapy in such a situation is likely doomed to fail. Couples have a much better chance at repairing the relationship if they catch the problems early on.
2. Find the right therapist. Make sure you do your homework and go to a therapist trained in some type of evidence-based couples therapy. Couples therapy requires many specific skills; a therapist trained in John Gottman's approach would be my first choice.
3. Be honest with the therapist. It's frustrating working with couples when one or both parties don't tell the truth. As I mentioned above, sometimes people have already consulted an attorney about a divorce and are not upfront about this. Other times ongoing affairs are involved and kept a secret. Another area frequently kept hidden from me is that of substance abuse. A good therapist will not judge you, but needs to know everything in order to help you.
4. Show up for the session. I mean this literally and figuratively. First of all, be there on time and ready to participate. Turn off your phone and put it away. This may seem obvious, but I've actually had to tell people to put away their phones during the middle of a session. Actively engage in the session. Do your best to listen, share, and have an open mind.
5. Do your homework. Some couples therapy will require work between sessions. You may be asked to fill out relationship questionnaires. You may be asked to practice communication skills. There may be materials to read. If it sounds like school, it is: you're learning new relationship skills. It sounds cliché, but you'll get out of couples therapy what you put into it.
6. Give it time. Couples often want quick fixes to problems that have built up over years, perhaps even decades. Gottman notes that, on average, couples spend six years being unhappy before getting help. That results in a lot of resentment! Don't expect couples therapy to work magic overnight. Similarly, don't expect the therapist to "fix" your problems—a good therapist will act more as a relationship coach. In time, if you do your part, there's hope that you and your partner can remember the good things that brought you together in the first place.
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