How to Prepare for Couples Therapy

GoodTherapy | How to Prepare for Couples TherapyFrom navigating parenthood to coping with work stress, there are a seemingly endless number of challenges couples will have to grapple with over the course of their relationship, and sometimes we need a little extra help to get through the more trying times.   

In fact, one survey found that about 70% of respondents wished they had better information on how to deal with conflicts in their relationships.  

However, being open to couple’s counseling demonstrates a relationship where both partners are committed to improving themselves and each other’s lives. 

Therapy may be daunting for those who have never been, but it certainly does not have to be. Learn how to find the right therapist for you and your partner and make the most out of your sessions.   

 Preparing for Therapy 

Decide between in-person versus online therapy 

Before committing to a couples therapist, it’s important to determine whether you and your partner prefer in-person or online sessions. While most private insurers now cover both methods equally, it’s important to double-check with your plan to confirm. Once you consider the financial implications, you’ll also want to determine what works best for you and your partner.  

Some find in-person therapy to be more personal, as nonverbal cues – such as body language and mood –  can be harder to decipher over a video call, and building trust with a therapist may be easier face-to-face.  

On the flip side, many people prefer online therapy due to its convenience. Finding roughly an hour each week that works for three individuals’ schedules is not easy and being able to do so from the comfort of your home could increase the likelihood of long-term commitment. You may also find a therapist who is particularly experienced in working with clients with similar backgrounds or concerns as you, and it could be worth it to proceed online if they are not in close proximity. 

Despite initial concerns, particularly before the pandemic, teletherapy can be just as effective. One study found that 74% of couples switching from traditional in-person therapy to online therapy experienced a positive shift 

Set realistic expectations  

Let’s outline what you can expect and not expect out of couples therapy.  

According to Lori Gottlieb, a prominent psychotherapist who is well-versed in both individual and relationship counseling: 

“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 to do about it). Very few people want to focus on improving their response. It’s more common to build a strong case for why the other should do the improving,” she said.  

Regardless of why you’re seeking couples counseling, understand that, if done well, such therapy will require a change in behaviors and thought patterns for both parties 

Here are some tough questions that will likely surface during sessions: 

  • What can you do to make it easier for your partner to change behaviors you find frustrating? 
  • Do you expect your partner to treat you better than you treat him/her? 
  • Do you expect your partner to treat you better than you treat yourself? 

Common Stigmas and Misconceptions Behind Couples Therapy 

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be more willing to go to counseling than the other. This may be due to stigma around couples therapy, which is often rooted in the idea that seeking therapy means a relationship is doomed and/or there is an unwillingness to acknowledge arising fractures in a relationship.    

While about 60% of respondents in one survey stated they believe the stigma for such therapy has decreased, about a third still stated that it was a barrier for them in seeking counseling.  

But according to renowned couples therapist Dr. Margaret Rutherford, seeking a professional third party to help navigate your relationship challenges in a supportive and objective way is something even the healthiest of couples benefit from, and seeking professional counseling before deeply toxic patterns set in is the best way increases couples’ chances of long-term happiness. 

“As a couples therapist, hearing ‘We came in before there was a real problem’ is music to my ears,” Rutherford said. 

Other misconceptions include the concern that at least one partner will be scolded or reprimanded, or that the therapist will be one-sided. Counselors may be firm in holding you or your partner accountable in your statements or behaviors, but they should always communicate directly yet respectfully as well.  

 Questions to discuss prior to couples therapy 

Your sessions will be most effective if you begin counseling with an understanding of what you and your partner’s primary challenges and goals for therapy are. This can be as specific or broad as necessary, but outlining your obstacles and what you hope to accomplish out of counseling will provide a good starting point for your therapist, and it’s also an opportunity for you and your partner to ensure you are both aligned.   

Just like participation in a professional setting or on a sports team, if the group is not working toward the same goal, progress will be slim at best, and relying on one player or colleague to carry most of the weight would be unfair. Similarly, with couples, make sure you have a conversation about the top recurring issues you hope to remediate in the most respectful and blameless way possible. Remember, therapy objectives should not result in placing an overwhelming burden on one party.  

Let’s take a few examples: 

  • If infidelity has been an issue in your relationship, instead of stating that your goal is to make sure your partner doesn’t cheat – or conversely, that they don’t do things that make you want to cheat – a blameless objective would be to trust one another again and experience organically derived intimacy.
  • Financial stress is one of the top relationship stressors. If this is the case, an ideal goal could be, for instance, that you both adhere to a budget and lifestyle that leaves each partner satisfied and fulfilled.  

Key Takeaways for Couples 

Be patient: Remember that our deeply entrenched thoughts and behaviors do not change overnight, and it takes time to alter such patterns in ways that translate to definitively positive outcomes.  

Stay focused: Being as specific as possible in the challenges your relationship faces (all while staying blameless!) will also help you find the perfect fit of a therapist.  

Consider different therapeutic approaches: Research the types of therapy that you and your partner would benefit from. One approach that is particularly useful for couples is emotion-based therapy, which can help partners better understand their emotional responses and those of their significant other.  

Find therapists with particular areas of expertise:  You may also want to search for a therapist with experience and credentials working with the specific issues your relationship is struggling with, whether that is substance abuse, infidelity or a particular mental health condition.  

 Once you’ve identified some of these traits and attributes, use online search tools such as GoodTherapy to find the perfect fit.  



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