How to Make Couples Therapy Work for You

happy couple making marriage workCouples therapy is not for the faint of heart. If you and your partner need help working through issues in your relationship, you’ll both have to be willing to be honest and diligently work on your own role in the relationship. Couples aren’t the only ones challenged by couples counseling, though. Therapists often report that group counseling is much harder than individual counseling because of the challenge of balancing the needs of two distinct individuals and ensuring that both people feel understood. Therapy can save marriages and long-term relationships, but you’ll need to choose the right therapist, and not every therapeutic approach works for everyone. If you don’t feel like you’re making progress after a few months, it’s probably time to try a different therapist.

Safety

It can be scary to address tough issues with your partner, and a good therapist will prioritize your physical and psychological safety. If your partner punishes you for things you say in therapy, you should feel comfortable saying so during therapy sessions. If there’s a history of abuse in your relationship, your therapist should take these issues seriously, and work with each of you to ensure that abuse no longer occurs. If you find yourself dreading counseling because your partner berates you during the session or punishes you for what you say, your therapist might not be very effective at helping each of you handle negative emotions.

Homework

No matter how frequently you go to therapy or how experienced your therapist is, you won’t get much out of the process if you’re not doing work between sessions. You should leave each therapy session with a good idea of what you need to do before the next session to improve your relationship. Many couples counselors give their clients homework. You might, for example, be instructed to focus on listening to your partner’s feelings or expressing more gratitude. If counseling feels like little more than a dumping ground for negative feelings, it’s time to move on.

Tackling the Tough Issues

A good couples therapist will occasionally make you feel challenged. You shouldn’t feel like your partner and your therapist are in an alliance against you, but your therapist should be able to call you on inappropriate behavior, especially if it is part of a problematic pattern in your relationship. If either party is bullied in therapy, or if your therapist is never willing to address each party’s contributions to your problems, this is a glaring red flag.

Slow and Steady Change

You’ll rarely see an overnight change as a result of couples therapy, but if nothing about your relationship is improving, this is a bad sign. A good therapist should be able to help you pinpoint problematic behaviors and establish methods for steadily improving upon them. If you’re still struggling with the exact same issues after months in therapy, it’s probably time to try a different technique or therapist.

Honesty

If you can’t be honest in therapy, it’s because your therapist is not doing enough to establish a safe place for communication. You should feel comfortable bringing up issues with your partner in therapy, and rest comfortably knowing that your therapist will be prepared to tackle these issues in a way that matches your values and goals. But you don’t need to just be honest with your partner. You should also feel like you can honestly express your feelings to your therapist. If you can’t tell your therapist when you dislike something about therapy, you might not have the right therapist.

References:

  1. Doherty, W. (n.d.). Bad couples therapy. Psychotherapy Networker. Retrieved from http://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/magazine/populartopics/couples/475-bad-couples-therapy
  2. How to get the most from your couples therapy. (n.d.). The Couples Institute. Retrieved from http://www.couplesinstitute.com/getthemost/
  3. Is couples therapy right for you? (2012, May 01). US News. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2012/05/01/is-couples-therapy-right-for-you
  4. Weil, E. (2012, March 2). Does couples therapy work? The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/04/fashion/couples-therapists-confront-the-stresses-of-their-field.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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  • Jae

    Jae

    September 1st, 2013 at 5:13 AM

    It definitely has to be something that both members of the relationship wants to be a part of. This is not something that can be one sided and be a success. Without the willing input from both partners along with help and guidance from a trained therapist, this is something that will go nowhere in a hurry!

  • Katy

    Katy

    September 1st, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    Went to couples therapy in the past…the conflict wasn’t very bad and going in for therapy early on ensured things got better pretty quick.my suggestion would be to be open to your therapist and treat this as something different from your marriage to your partner…if you don’t work like a team then nothing’s going to change..!

  • Aaron

    Aaron

    September 3rd, 2013 at 3:18 AM

    Yeah therapy is hard but will only work if both parties are 100% willing and open to it. Otherwise forget it because you will just be wasting your time and money.

  • Dr J

    Dr J

    September 27th, 2013 at 4:43 PM

    Both Aaron and Jae say that both parties have to be invested in therapy for it to be worth going. As a couples therapist for 3 decades, I can agree with that perspective only up to a point. Ideally, both people fully participate, but even if only one person comes, change is well likely. That one person can learn ways to manage his or her own behavior to change the direction of conflicts.

    So please go, with or without your partner.
    Imagine you are actors in a play and you both know your lines well. If only one actor changes his or her lines, the other will have to pay attention and will have to also change lines in order for the conversation to make any sense.

    So even if a partner

  • mike g

    mike g

    September 3rd, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    Aha the homework, that’s what always gets me into trouble!
    Not that my wife and I don’t pursue the talks and conversations at home that our counselor encourages us to do, but many times these activities opne up a whole new can of worms that kind of feel impossible to navigate when we don’t have her there to mediate.
    maybe that’s her goal? To see how we can work through some of this on our own?

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