We decided to start couples counseling, now what?
If you’ve cleared the big hurdle of coming to an agreement about going to couples counseling, you’re one step closer to strengthening your relationship. Asking for help with something as personal as your marriage or romantic relationship can feel really scary, but if you feel prepared, you’ll find it easier to hit the ground running when you meet with your couples therapist. Here are some suggested steps you can take between now and your first session to help you feel more mentally prepared and comfortable moving forward with couples therapy.
Be clear about your “why”.
You’ll definitely get more out of couples counseling if you go for your own reasons, not just because someone tells you to or tells you to.1.2
In fact, the more you can stand behind your reasons for attending counseling, the more positive changes you are likely to see, and those changes are more likely to be long-lasting and sustainable.
You might have a few different reasons for choosing couples counseling, and some of those might sound more like reasons for someone else (e.g., your partner wants you to change; you want your partner to change) or for something else (e.g. your reputation or your self-esteem).
If your only reasons for attending a consultation sound like this, you might be having a harder time getting the results you want:
- I want my partner or therapist to think I’m a good person.2
- I don’t want others (my partner, friends, family) to be upset or disappointed in me.2
- I want others to see that I’m willing to work to improve our relationship.2
- My partner told me, and it’s easier to do what I’m told than to think about it.2
- someone makes me; I have no choice.1
- I want the therapist to help my partner understand that they are the problem.
All of these reasons have a few things in common: they’re for or about other people, not driven by your own values, or they’re more about avoiding something bad (e.g., disappointment, looking bad, feeling bad, guilt). , or feeling failed) than pursuing something meaningful (going for a better relationship, becoming a better partner, building a happier future with your spouse).
However, if some of these reasons resonate with you, you are not alone and your couples therapy (and relationship) experience is not doomed. It’s just important to also have some reasons for attending couples therapy that are intrinsic — something that drives you, that feels personally meaningful and important. These might sound something like this:
- Going into couples therapy is an important decision I really want to make to strengthen our relationship.2
- I value our relationship very much and believe that couples therapy gives us a good chance to improve things.1
- I appreciate working on my romantic relationship – I know it takes hard work and it wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t try.2
- I know I have room for improvement and I want help in becoming a better partner.2
A conscious personal decision to seek couples counseling because it matters to you personally, because you value the work you do on yourself and your relationship, and because you find meaning in the challenge of relationship growth can help you get off on the right foot .
Marriage is hard work and so is marriage counseling. It’s marked by mounting pain, difficult feedback, and emotionally draining conversations about some of the most sensitive issues. If you make a personal decision to participate in the process because it is something you value deeply, it will make the toughest of growing pains in the process more bearable. If you only get involved in the process for your partner (because they want to or because they gave you an ultimatum), it’s easy to blame your partner for how difficult the growth process is, and you could annoy them along the way, which is what the Undo some of the hard work and progress you make in counseling.
Think about your desires and your worries
Sometimes it’s easier to identify what you don’t want (“I don’t want to fight anymore”; “I don’t want to feel lonely in my marriage”) than what you do want (“I want to feel connected again my spouse”; “I want a better sex life with my partner”; “I want to communicate better.”) The more specific you are about what you want and what you want to work on, the more ownership you will feel about your change process. Here are some common desires that partners share at the beginning:
- I want to feel like a team when we are parents.
- I want to feel understood and understand my partner better.
- I want things to feel fair between us.
- I want to trust them again, or I want them to trust me again.
- I want to be a better partner – more emotionally available, better at listening, better at sharing my feelings.
There are many misconceptions about what to expect from couples counseling, and talking about things you’re scared or worried about can help calm nerves. It can also be helpful to know a little bit about what to expect from your first session so you don’t feel in the dark about what’s to come.
Communicate that this is important to you
If you’ve decided to start couples therapy, it can go a long way in showing that you’re truly invested in healing as a couple. Here are a few simple ways you can show what this means to you:
- Don’t make your partner your secretary. Participate in planning the first session and keeping track of appointments along the way, rather than having a partner responsible for the counseling happening.
- Spark conversations about your therapy sessions outside of therapy if you feel able to conduct the conversation factually without the therapist.
- ask questions about what your partner thinks about the therapy.
- Follow up about things your partner shares in the session.
How to prepare for the consultation
Marriage counseling/couples therapy is a big step for many couples. For many, the decision to seek couples counseling symbolizes that you take your relationship seriously enough to do the work it needs and deserves. For some, seeking professional help for your relationship can reveal just how bad it feels like things have gotten — a painful truth many have to acknowledge. Whatever brought you to this point, it takes courage to seek help. Feeling ready to begin this process can make it feel more helpful and less stressful. You’ll probably feel more prepared when you start thinking about why you’re leaving, what you expect from it, what worries you about, and whether you’re willing to show a personal investment in the change process.