What should I expect from Couples Therapy?
Couples therapy is sometimes referred to as relationship counselling or marriage guidance, which are essentially the same with a different name. Arranging to go to see a counsellor can be frightening initially, and you may have a feeling of dread about what might happen. It is often helpful if you know a few things you can expect before the first session.
Is it right for me – how will I benefit?
People often wonder if couples therapy is right for them and don’t know how to tell if they would benefit from seeing a counsellor about their relationship. There is no easy answer to this, but couples sometimes feel that they can no longer deal with their problems at home together, without an escalation of protest behaviour; rows about the silliest things escalating into nasty arguments or a stalemate in which neither of the partners speak to the other.
There may be underlying issues such as sex, infidelity, money, or problems with children or in-laws, on which you have conflicting views, neither understanding the view of the other.
The main purpose of couples therapy is for the counsellor to act as a neutral mediator to help you make sense of what is going on both at a conscious level and at a psychological level. The counsellor will help you to communicate more effectively with each other.
The principles of therapy include:
- Changing the view of the relationship
- Modifying dysfunctional behaviour
- Improving communication
The responsibility of the couple counsellor’s is to the relationship. The therapy aims to avoid the positions which can often play out in a Drama Triangle (that of the Persecutor, the Victim, the Rescuer) and to identify patterns where one partner may be self-absorbed, not seeing the other. The counsellor aims to make sure that both partners get equal attention, time, and understanding, with the ultimate goal to get you talking through whatever issues you have so that a healthy resolution can be identified.
Seeing a counsellor as early into the difficulties as possible is likely to produce more positive results than after serious problems have already formed. It is not necessarily the counsellor’s role to save the relationship. Sometimes therapy is about identifying how to separate amicably, and this too can be very helpful.
How do I know if you are the right therapist?
Much of the success of any therapy (whether individual or couples) relies on the rapport you have with your counsellor. It is a good idea to book in for an initial session to start with so that you can decide if the counsellor feels right for you. However, as with any relationship, these develop over time and so it can be helpful to commit to at least three sessions before making a decision.
What will it be like in the first session?
As you might expect, there will be a few questions to find out what is going on and what brought you to therapy. It maybe that you know the answer or it may be more difficult to identify a particular issue. Research shows that the average couple who seek couples counselling has been unhappy for six years before they decide to seek help. At that point, it can be pretty tough to narrow down.
You may want to prepare yourself to answer a few basic questions during the first session as you will usually be asked about your history. Being open and honest will give the counsellor a much better understanding of your problems and how they affect you.
Depending on the situation, your counsellor might also talk to you both individually for portions of the appointment, or in separate appointments altogether. Don’t hold back from asking lots of questions before your first appointment if this will help to ease any worries.
How will I feel
Brace yourself for some awkward conversations, because they are most likely to happen. Dealing with your problems is not much fun at all. This can be magnified when you are airing your problems with a third person, so, don’t expect the first few visits to a counsellor to produce results. It is often the case that things become slightly more painful at first before positive change occurs. For example, you may feel hurt if your partner talks about things you never knew about. Equally, you may find yourself saying things that you had not even been aware you in your thoughts.
Talking about your problems with a relationship counsellor can be difficult. Sessions can be challenging for both of you, as you and your partner may be angry over perceived wrongs and may bring your fights into the therapy room. If this happens, your counsellor will mediate to help you cope with your emotions.
How will therapy progress through the sessions
The amount of sessions varies from couple to couple. If you address a particular issue early on, you may only need a few sessions to work through the problem. Alternately, you it can take months or even years to work through things. A good counsellor will help you to develop strategies to deal with your own future problems without therapy, but this can still take time.
It is often the case that one partner is ready to leave the relationship whilst the other doesn’t want to break up. The counsellor can help the ‘leaver’ to decide if the decision to leave the relationship is the correct one and can also help the ‘stayer’ to cope with their emotions without making the situation worse which can sometimes result in the already irritated partner turning away further.
During the sessions the couple are invited to examine what was good about the relationship, what got them to the current point and what have they done to try to save the relationship. You might work through the issues and strengthen your relationship or you may choose to end and move on.
The counsellor will work with you to consider the three following alternatives:
- The relationship as it is
- Separation / Divorce
Counselling is not for everyone but it is certainly worth considering if you feel stuck and don’t know what else to do, or if you need a third-party mediator. The results can be very satisfying, whatever the outcome.