What Couples Therapy is REALLY Like…
Many couples come to therapy with mistaken ideas about what it’s going to be like, how much effort is required and how long it’s going to take. If most partners were brutally honest, what they are often hoping for is characterological change in their partner! After all, if your partner changed, then your relationship would be fine! The hope is that the therapist will notice their partner’s shortcomings and will fix their partner while they wait. Most people can provide a list of their partner’s shortcomings, but when asked about their own, well, that’s more challenging to identify. Here are 3 things to consider that will help you make the most out of couples therapy: time, effort, and self-reflection
Simply put, it takes time to create a positive relationship and you are probably going to have to trade off some professional and personal time to do this work. The work doesn’t just happen in the therapy room, in fact, most of it happens at home in your day to day lives together. The number one reason couples say they didn’t do the work in between sessions is that there wasn’t enough time. Our lives are busy, especially if you have young children, but if you want couples therapy to work, you need to intentionally make this a priority by finding time for it. Many couples come in short-sightedly expecting therapy to be a magic wand. Just as it took some time for the relationship to deteriorate to this low point, it’s going to take some time to get it back on track and functional. “Changing the course of a relationship is like pulling a U-turn in a cruise ship, not a mini cooper”.*
Identifying what to do and how to do it is often easy, the bigger challenge is why you don’t. One of the hardest part of couples therapy is accepting that you will need to improve your response to a problem (how you think about it, feel about it, or what you do about it). It’s more common to build a case for why the other should put in the effort of improving. The stance of “I’ll change AFTER my partner changes” … or in other words “You change first!” is a common misconception.
You are going to have to make a lot of effort to do the emotional labour inherent in couples counselling. To be vulnerable about asking for what you want, to be honest about what you don’t like about the relationship and being open to hearing criticism of your own actions takes courage, and effort!
Couples therapy works well when you take the time and effort to do some self-reflection. Ask yourself: Are you being the partner you aspire to be? How do you want to be as a partner? What blocks you from becoming this person? What is so distressing to you about how things are right now? When things go wrong, what do you do to repair the distress? What do you want to stop doing? What do you want to start doing instead? What might I be bringing from my family of origin about how to be in a relationship?
Coming to couples therapy is a courageous thing to do. Attitude is everything. If you come with these 3 things in mind, you are already off to a promising start.
*Sophie Benoit article, This is what couples therapy can actually solve,