Getting the Most out of Couples Therapy

How to get the most out of couples therapy: you have made an important choice: to invest in the improvement of your relationship. By developing appropriate expectations and following a few suggestions, your investment in couples therapy can reap great rewards. This document is designed to help you get the most benefit from our work together.

In couples therapy, both the clients and the therapist have jobs to do. Your job is to create your own individual objectives for being in therapy. Like a good coach, my job is to help you reach them. I have many, many tools to help you become a more effective partner – and my tools work best when you are clear about how you aspire to be. My goal is to help each of you make better adjustments and responses to each other without violating your core values or deeply-held principles.

Goals of Couples Therapy
Your initial tasks will be to increase your clarity about:

  • The kind of life you want to build together
  • The kind of partner you aspire to be in order to build the kind of life you want together
  • Your individual blocks to becoming the kind of partner you aspire to be
  • The skills and knowledge necessary to reach your goals

To create and sustain improvement in your relationship requires:

  • A vision of the life you want to build together and individually
  • The appropriate attitudes and skills to work as a team
  • The motivation to persist
  • Sustained effort
  • Time to review progress and make adjustments as necessary

Tradeoffs
To create the relationship you really desire, there will be some difficult tradeoffs and tough choices for each of you. Here are a few you can expect.

Time Investment
It simply takes time to create a relationship that flourishes, time to be together, play, coordinate, nurture, relax, hang out, plan, etc.

Discomfort
Expect emotional discomfort, as it is always part of the growth process. In therapy you will try novel ways of thinking and behaving, like listening and being curious instead of interrupting your partner, and speaking up instead of becoming resentfully compliant or withdrawing..

Expending Energy
It simply takes effort to sustain improvement over time.  It will require effort to remember to be more respectful, more giving, more appreciative, etc.

Getting the Most from Your Sessions
By following these suggestions, you can make the best use of your time in therapy.

There are several mistakes couples often make in therapy. The first is showing up without a plan.

The second is the stream-of-consciousness approach. This happens when the focus of the session is on whatever happens to be on your mind at that moment.

The third is discussing the fight of the moment or the fight you had since the last session. Discussing these fights without also discussing what you wish to learn from them is often an exercise in spinning your wheels.

Here is a more useful approach to your sessions. Before every meeting, both of you should:

  • Reflect on your goals for being in therapy
  • Think about the next step you want to take to get closer to reaching your goals
  • Be ready to discuss the outcome of your completed homework
  • Give Your Success a Chance

It Takes Two
The blunt reality is that therapy requires time, patience, effort, and commitment from both partners.

Embrace Change
When it comes to improving your relationship, expecting and accepting change will take you far. While change can be scary, it is only through change that you can reach your goals.

Improve Your Relationship by Improving Yourself
It is typical for clients to begin therapy with the goal of changing their partners. You may think “if only she would stop doing ____” or “if only he would start doing ____ then everything would be fine.”  If you want to have a better partner, you need to be a better partner.

Things to Think About
Finally, in this section I’ve included some things for you to think about. These ideas may help you better understand your problem, provide you with language to help you discuss your problem, or help you articulate your goals.

Getting Real
Marriages (and businesses) fail for the same three reasons. A failure to:

  • Learn from the past
  • Adapt to changing conditions
  • Predict probable future problems and take preventative action

Can you legitimately expect your partner to treat you better than you treat him/her?

The hardest part of therapy is accepting you will need to improve your response to a problem (how you think about it, feel about it, or what to do about it).

Communication
The three most important qualities for effective communication are respect, openness and persistence.

It is essential for you to let your partner know what you think, feel and are concerned about. Partners can’t appreciate what they don’t understand, and people cannot read each other’s minds.

Most of the ineffective things we do in relationships fall into just a few categories:

  • Blame or attempt to dominate
  • Disengage / withdraw
  • Become resentfully compliant
  • Whine
  • Denial or confusion

Effective communication means paying attention to:

  • Managing unruly emotions, such as intense anger
  • How you are communicating – whining, blaming, being vague, etc.
  • What you want from your partner during the discussion
  • What the problem symbolizes to you
  • The outcome you want from the discussion
  • Your partner’s major concerns
  • How you can help your partner become more responsive to you
  • The beliefs and attitudes you have about the problem

adapted from “How To Get The Most From Couples Therapy” by Ellen Bader, Ph.D. and Peter Pearson, Ph.D. http://www.couplesinstitute.com

Anne Aja, Ed.D.

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