Every relationship has moments of conflict or stress. Sometimes couples are able to work through these periods on their own, but other times they find themselves having the same argument over and over, feeling distant from one another, or failing to communicate effectively. Maybe they can’t quite pinpoint what seems to be out of sync. Or perhaps they’re all too aware of their unhealthy patterns of conflict but aren’t sure how to change them. In these cases, couples therapy can help improve the dynamic and rebuild the relationship.
Unfortunately, misconceptions about couples therapy may prevent partners from seeking help until problems have become entrenched. It’s not true that “good couples” should be able to solve all their problems on their own, or that therapy is only a last resort for relationships in serious trouble. Couples counseling is an investment in your relationship that can help strengthen your bonds and give you essential insight into how to create positive change so that both partners feel more fulfilled and connected. It isn’t even necessary to wait for a problem to arise—some couples preemptively seek therapy when they’re navigating a life change like getting married, having children, or changing jobs to ensure that their relationship stays strong.
If you’ve reached the point where you feel your relationship could benefit from the professional guidance of a couples counselor, knowing what to expect and how to prepare will help you make the most out of your therapy.
What To Expect from Couples Therapy
The first thing to know about couples therapy is that it is not about “fixing” one partner or deciding who is “right” or “wrong” about the issues that have brought you in. Instead, couples therapy is about examining your relationship and interactions that have created problems in the past so that ineffective patterns can be replaced by healthier ones. Unlike individual therapy, the focus is not on you, but on both partners as a unit. Your therapist provides a nonjudgmental outside perspective to help identify the ways in which you both may contribute to a dysfunctional dynamic, and helps you change your behavior, improve your communication, and become more effective partners to each other.
Keep in mind that couples therapy is likely to make you feel vulnerable. After all, you’ll be discussing issues that may feel embarrassing or painful, or that are deeply personal and intimate. Choosing the right therapist—someone who specializes in couples therapy and who both partners feel comfortable opening up to in a therapy session—is essential for the process to produce the results you’re hoping for.
How to Prepare for Couples Counseling
The most important step you can make to prepare for couples counseling is for both partners to be willing to work at it. Commonly, one member of the couple may suggest counseling, while the other may feel more hesitant. It’s okay if both partners aren’t equally enthusiastic at the start, but both must be sincere about their efforts to address their issues together with a therapist. If one partner is unwilling to engage in the process, it will be impossible to make progress.
Next, take some time before your first session to think about the issues that are bringing you to therapy in the first place. It’s best if you and your partner can discuss your concerns and goals together, but if that is not possible, you should each take some time to reflect beforehand. Knowing the specific problems you’d like to solve—such as communication issues or lack of intimacy—will help you set relevant goals, as well as helping to keep your sessions focused on what you want to achieve.
Try to go into counseling with an open mind and the idea that meaningful change takes time. It may take a few sessions before you both feel fully comfortable in relationship therapy, and it’s likely to take several months for you to explore the issues in your relationship and work to establish new, healthier patterns.
What You Can Do to Make Couples Therapy More Effective
Once you’ve started therapy, how you undertake the process has a profound effect on what you get out of it. Some tips for getting the most out of it include:
- Make sure you schedule your appointments for a time and date that works for you both and make those sessions a priority.
- Do your best to complete any homework assignments you receive from your therapist. The idea is to help you practice and reinforce the new skills you’re learning, so neglecting this step is a missed opportunity for growth. (If a particular assignment is hard, make sure to discuss it in your next session.)
- Focus on changing yourself rather than attempting to change your partner. Nobody can control somebody else’s behaviors, but if each of you sincerely work toward addressing your own issues, you increase the odds you can fix your relationship problems together.
Find a Therapist
At SF Stress and Anxiety Center, our couples therapists and counselors draw on approaches such as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and The Gottman Method, which are based in relationship science. We have decades of experience helping couples build the healthy relationships they desire with research-tested, evidence-based methods. With both in-person and online sessions available, we make therapy accessible and convenient even when your schedules are hectic. We begin with a free question-and-answer call with one of our compassionate Care Coordinators to match you with the right couples therapy specialist in our network of expert providers. To get started reclaiming the intimacy, closeness, and harmony you’ve been missing in your relationship, schedule your free introductory phone consultation now.