How to Get the Most Out of Couples Therapy

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.

11 Healthy Ways to Cope With a Breakup

No matter the nature of a relationship – be it marriage, civil partnership or simply your significant other – it is never an easy situation when you are facing a breakup, separation or divorce.

Whatever the reasons for the breakdown, the range of emotions you experience can be powerful and thus the situation can feel overwhelming and difficult to cope with. Here are 11 tips that can help you to work through these emotions and to come to terms with your new and changed circumstances.

1. Don’t Fight Your Feelings

A break-up is often accompanied by a wide variety of powerful and negative feelings including sadness, anger, confusion, resentment, jealousy, fear and regret, to mention a few. If you try to ignore or suppress these feelings, you will likely only prolong the normal grieving process, and sometimes get totally stuck in it. Healthy coping means both identifying these feelings and allowing ourselves to experience these feelings. As hard as it is, you cannot avoid the pain of loss, but realize that by experiencing these feelings, they will decrease over time and you will speed up the grieving process. The stages of grieving frequently include: shock/denial, bargaining, anger, depression and eventually acceptance. Extreme grief feels like it will last forever, but it doesn’t if we cope in some healthy ways.

2. Openly Discuss Your Feelings 

Talking about your feelings related to the break-up is an equally powerful tool to manage them. As we talk to supportive friends and family members, we can come to some new understandings and relieve some of our pain. Holding all of these negative feelings in just doesn’t work, although there may be times when this is necessary, such as in public settings, at work, or in class. As we talk to others, we usually discover that our feelings are normal and that others have survived these feelings. Above all else, don’t isolate yourself or withdraw from those people who can give you support.

3. Write Out Your Thoughts and Feelings 

In addition to talking to others, it can be very helpful to journal your thoughts and feelings related to the break-up. People are not always available when you need to get out your feelings and some feelings or thoughts may be too private to feel comfortable sharing with others. The act of writing your feelings out can be very freeing and can often give you a different perspective about them.

4. Understand That Break-ups Are Often An Inevitable Part Of Dating 

Remember that many of our dating relationships will end up in a break-up. This is the very nature of dating. Until we find our best match, we are going to be moving in and out of relationships, so expect it. This way, we won’t feel so devastated when it does happen. Relationships usually end for some good reasons and they should end if we want to find our most suitable partner. Of course, no match will be perfect and we have to decide how long to keep looking and what we can live with. Finding a complementary partner is more than about love and therefore, it is going to likely take many dating relationships to find.

5. Don’t Personalize The Loss

It is natural after a break-up to blame yourself, but try not to personalize the loss for too long. Much of the pain of a break-up comes from seeing the loss as your fault and regretting the choices you made while in the relationship. This process of self-blame can go on endlessly if you let it. It is far more helpful to see the ending as a result of conflicting needs and incompatibilities that are no one’s fault. Each person in a relationship is trying to get their own needs met and some couples are able to help fulfill each other’s needs and others are not. One of the biggest issues is being able to communicate and negotiate those needs. It’s not easy to learn, so don’t blame yourself and try not to blame your ex. He or she is likely also doing the best they can, given their personalities and life history. No one goes into a relationship with the goal of making it fail, or hurting the other person.

6. Prioritize Basic Self-Care 

Self-care refers to ensuring that your basic needs are being met, despite the fact that you may be feeling upset and depressed due to the break-up. You may not feel like eating but do it anyways, and try to make some healthy choices in what you eat. Give yourself ample time to sleep, particularly since this may be difficult for you. The short-term use of some herbal alternatives or sleep medications may be necessary to ensure you get the sleep you need. Sleep deprivation will only compound your suffering. Keeping up or starting an exercise routine can also make you feel better both physically and psychologically. Remember, exercise causes the release of endorphins, which can make you feel better.

7. Get Back Into A Routine 

Since going through a break-up can create a sense of chaos in many areas of your life, continuing on with your routines will give you a better sense of stability or normalcy. Although taking some expectations off yourself temporarily can help, returning to routines shortly after the initial blow can help calm you down and give you a returning sense of control. This might include routines around wake-up and bedtimes, meals, school or work related activities, exercise, and time with others to mention a few.

8. Don’t Lose Faith In People Or Relationships 

Since you may be feeling very hurt after a break-up, it is easy to assume that all men (or women) are bad or untrustworthy, but this just isn’t true. By holding on to this belief, you will be denying yourself all kinds of opportunities for a great relationship Page 4 in the future. We can’t over-generalize from our limited relationship history and assume that it will never work out. Keep shopping! The more people you meet, the greater the chance you will find your best match.

9. Let Go Of The Hope You Will Get Back Together 

Unless there is some very strong evidence that you will reunite with your ex, try to let go of this possibility. Bringing closure to the relationship is impossible if you continue to hold onto the hope that the relationship will be resurrected. This means don’t wait by the phone for a call, or try to e-mail or text them to try to have a little more connection, or beg to get back together, or make threats to get them back (i.e., you will commit suicide). These options will only perpetuate your emotional distress in the long term and make you come across as desperate, which will further impact your already shaken self-esteem. Life is too short to wait for someone to come back to you after a break-up.

10. Avoid Unhealthy Coping Strategies 

There are several ways of coping with a break-up that are considered quite unhelpful and will likely only compound your problems. These include such choices as drinking excessively, doing drugs, overeating, self-harm, gambling excessively, or becoming a workaholic. You may be tempted to do whatever you can to avoid feelings of loneliness and pain, but it is essential to find healthier ways to cope.

11. Examine What You Can Learn From The Relationship 

We can learn a lot from all the relationships we have been in, particularly ones that are painful. It’s very helpful after a relationship ends to spend some time thinking about and writing down what you have learned so that you can have better relationships in the future. However, don’t use this as an opportunity to beat yourself up or blame yourself for the relationship not lasting. Learning promotes growth, while self-blame (i.e. feeling you’re a failure) only extends your suffering.

If you are struggling in your relationship, reach out to us today to set up your session with a couples therapist.


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