(Adapted from “How to Get the Most From Your Couples Therapy”, Dr. Peter Pearson, Couples Institute)
Couples are often uncertain what to expect from the process of couples therapy. They are not sure of what to expect of the therapist or even if the therapist has any expectations of them.
Most couples approach therapy with the notion that each person will describe their distress and somehow the therapist will assist them to create a happier, more functional, relationship. They expect to learn some new or better skills. However, most people hope their partner will do most of the learning in problem areas.
Couples therapy is a significant investment of your resources (Ex: time, money, effort, etc.) In an effort to get the most from your couples therapy, there are guidelines that can make your couples work more effective. In couples work a therapists primary role is to: 1) educate you on the skills necessary to achieve an extraordinary and fulfilling relationship, 2) assess which skills of these you possess and which need to be grown, and 3) support you in unlearning the limiting beliefs and conditioning that block you from growing necessary relational skills. Your primary role is to: 1) create your own individual and team objectives for being in therapy, 2) lean in consistently with curiosity and motivation, and 3) practice. The most important theme of change is repetition. Neuroscience teaches us that with repetition, it takes a minimum of ten days and a maximum of twenty-one days to completely let go of a belief. Crucially, it takes the same amount of time to then create a new one. A therapist will have many tools to help you become a more effective partner – they work best when you are motivated, curious, and you practice. The following helps to provide clarity and focus to this expectation.
Goals and Objectives of Couples Therapy
The major aim of therapy is increasing your knowledge about yourself, your partner and the patterns of interaction between you. Therapy becomes effective as you apply new knowledge to break ineffective patterns and develop better ones.
The key tasks of couples therapy are increasing your clarity about:
- The kind of life you want to create together (knowledge about your team)
- The kind of partner you aspire to be in order to build the kind of life and relationship you want to create (knowledge about yourself)
- Your individual blocks to becoming the kind of partner you aspire to be (even deeper knowledge about yourself)
- What would make your partner feel delighted and excited to be in a partnership with you (knowledge about the other)
- The skills and knowledge necessary to do the above tasks
Tradeoffs and Tough Choices
To create the relationship you really desire, there will be some difficult tradeoffs and tough choices for each person.
The first tradeoff will be time. It simply takes time to create a relationship that flourishes: time to be together, time to be with family, time to play, coordinate, nurture, relax, hang out and plan. This time will encroach on some other valuable areas – your personal or professional time.
The second compromise is comfort. That means emotional comfort, like going out on a limb to try novel ways of thinking or doing things, listening and being curious instead of interrupting in, speaking up instead of becoming resentfully compliant or withdrawing.
The other comfort that will be challenged is energy comfort. It simply takes effort to sustain improvement over time: staying conscious of making a difference over time, consciously reaching for wise thinking that is more respectful, more giving, more appreciative etc. It takes conscious effort to remember and act.
The other effort is even more difficult for some people: that is improving their reaction to problems. For example, if one person is hypersensitive to criticism, and his/her partner is hypersensitive to feeling ignored, it will take effort to improve their sensitivity instead of hoping the partner will stop ignoring or criticizing.
In all these areas, there is generally a conflict between short-term gratification and the long-term goal of creating a satisfying relationship. The blunt reality is that, in a relationship, effort is required on the part of each person to make a sustained improvement. It is like pairs figure skating – one person cannot do most of the work and still create an exceptional team.
How to Maximize the Value from your Couples Therapy Sessions
Common yet unproductive patterns in couple’s therapy is making the focus be whatever problem happens to be on someone’s mind at the moment, showing up to session without knowing what to talk about, or discussing whatever fight you are currently having.
A more powerful approach to your couple’s therapy sessions is for each person to do the following before each session:
- Reflect on your objectives for being in therapy in regard to the kind of relationship you want to create.
- Reflect about your next step that grows your larger objectives for the kind of relationship you wish to create, or the partner you aspire to become.
This reflection takes some effort, but your preparation will pay high dividends.
We’re so glad you’re here seeking out information about couples therapy! If you have any questions directly for me about how I work as a couples therapist and run my sessions, please contact me. My goal as a couples therapist is to empower your relationship so that you can connect better with yourself and the people in your life.