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What to Expect From your Partner and Yes, Yourself When You Start Couples Counseling

My last post talked about what to expect from your therapist when you begin couples counseling and now I would like to address the equally important topic of what you and your partner should be willing to do when you engage in couples counseling. I have worked with many couples over the years and I will tell you that I have seen people make amazing changes when they are both committed to engaging in the process.A man is having an argument with his girlfriend while sitting on a couch

This brings me to my first tip:

#1 Attend Sessions Regularly.

Counseling works best when it’s not a one and done situation. Some people come in when they’re in crisis and don’t want to do any more than the absolute minimum to get things quieted down. I like to have several goals with clients–increase their understanding of each other and each other’s needs, give feedback about where things are getting off track, emphasize successes and teach new skills. It takes time to learn how to do things differently and to practice at home and come back in and solidify gains. Now this doesn’t mean I see couples for years or that people need to come in weekly if that doesn’t work. I can be flexible but a regular schedule is best. If I see couples once a month or only sporadically then it’s hard to do much more than put out fires.

#2 Take Accountability.

This one is crucial. Most people walk in my door with a very clear understanding of how wrong their partner is and are just waiting for me to back them up. I am a firm believer that relationships are about two people and the dynamic that goes on between them. So be willing to look at your part of the dance and talk about what changes you want from your partner and what you think you need to change. This can make all the difference in counseling. Now there are times when one person is making some real whoppers and we have to address those first. If you’ve had an affair the burden of accountability is on you for a while. Don’t think we are going to start off dealing with how your needs were not getting met. We will get to that but it will be very unbalanced while we try to repair the damage and rebuild trust. If there is emotional or verbal abuse going on then we have to work on creating safety first and here, too, accountability will be not even.

#3 Try To Be Open.

It’s not easy to sit in counseling at times but it is also an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself, your partner and how to improve your relationship. Please remember the therapist is there to help you, not to take sides. My goal is help and sometimes that means giving some honest feedback about how you might be coming across and how you are getting in your own way. The good news is I do know quite a bit about what makes relationships work better and if you can acknowledge that the old way of doing things with your partner wasn’t working then maybe you can open yourself up to some new approaches.

#4 Do Your Homework!

Homework has such nasty associations doesn’t it? I tell my clients that I’m not a teacher and they aren’t in trouble if they didn’t do their homework. But the fact is that there often is homework for my couples after our sessions. I will often give handouts of things that would be helpful for them to try at home. Now it is not algebra so don’t panic. It may be practicing a stress reducing conversation or having a weekly check in about how each person feels things are going. Sometimes it’s fun stuff, like asking each other questions to increase connection. It can also be whipping out handouts to better process a disagreement that comes up. People sometimes look at me like I’m crazy or they will ask “So we’re supposed to stop fighting and get these papers?” Well yes, try to or get them and try to use them afterwards. I promise the goal is not to have to speak to each other the rest of your days while holding your handouts but when you’re learning something new it can be helpful to have information to refer back to until you have mastered the task. Change will happen much more quickly if you are working outside of sessions and not just in the hour a week I may see you. And of course sometimes life interferes and homework doesn’t happen but we’ll be able to make the best use of our time if it does.

These tips can also be valuable ways of assessing the level of commitment and interest in saving the relationship. If your partner says they will go to counseling but then you see none of these four things happening or they are happening half-heartedly it may be time for some reassessment to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Click here for more information on Couples Counseling.