FAQ about Couples Counseling
What should we expect in a first session?
A first session is the beginning of trying to understand what is going on in a relationship – not just what is wrong but also what is right.
Where was the initial attraction? What is the impact of extended family? How's the sexual relationship? How does work figure in? These are just a few of the many areas to be explored.
The couple may have questions for me as well. I like to tell them about my year long Post –Doctoral Training in Couples Therapy, where I studied all of the methods in practice today for couples. This excellent training has given me many tools for helping couples achieve satisfying relationships.
What happens during marriage counseling? How do I know if couples counseling is working?
The first step is a few sessions to understand what is working and what is not working in a relationship. Strengths and weaknesses, history and commitment, communication styles, comfort with discussing feelings --- all are part of the beginning of couples counseling. After a thorough understanding of the issues at question, a decision is made about frequency of visits.
Goals of good couple therapy include:
One of the goals in counseling is for the couple to understand the issues. Understanding is the first step to making good decisions.
- Understanding your blocks to personal growth
- Creating a vision of the person you want to be in the relationship
- Gaining understanding of the patterns of interaction in your relationship
- Learning new patterns of interaction and practicing them frequently
- Collaboration on solving problems
How long should couples counseling last?
A few months is typical --- and couples typically experience relief as they begin. When couples are uncertain about staying in the relationship or are experiencing conflict, just the agreement to work on the relationship for a specific amount of time allows people to relax and begin to make needed changes.
Will you make suggestions of things for us to do outside of sessions?
I almost always send couples out of my office with an assignment. Sometimes it is something to read, but more likely it is interactional. It might be a task such as making a timeline or a commitment to spend time together in a directed way.
Will you tell us what to do?
I make lots of suggestions and recommendations, such as having an agenda for each therapy session, and making a commitment to spend time together to plan and experiment with different approaches.
If a couple is committed to making their relationship better, I have ways to help them make things better.
But, I don't tell people to break up and I don't tell them to stay together. My job is to be neutral --- and sometimes it means helping a couple make a good separation.
What if one person doesn't want to come in?
You can't change your partner, though many of us spin our wheels trying. You can control yourself, though, and if your partner is unwilling to participate in couples' therapy, it is still possible to improve the relationship. Usually, this means reducing your emotional reactivity to your partner and seeking emotional calmness during an upset. And, if you increase your understanding of yourself and modify your behavior, that will begin to alter the patterns of interaction in your relationship with your partner.
It takes two to continue a pattern…it takes one to change it.