Like many couples coming to therapy, you may not know what to expect. You may be coming with a specific goal or problem. You may be coming with a variety of emotions: anger, disappointment, grief. Or you may be coming with a general dissatisfaction, feelings of disconnection or loss.
Regardless of what brings you to therapy, here are some ways you can prepare yourself ahead of time to make the most of your couples work. Being able to identify your responses to these questions will help your couple’s therapist start helping you:
1. Think about your goals for the relationship. How would you like to be living a year from now?
2. Think about what needs to change in you to accomplish these goals.
3. What kind of partner do you want to be?
These are not trick questions. Many couples come to therapy focused on what needs to be changed in each other. That doesn’t work very well. The only person you have any control over is yourself, therefore the more you can focus on what you do have control over, the more progress can be made.
Here are a few more tough questions you might want to start thinking about. Notice they are not about problem solving, but more about the process of how problems get solved. (Hint: There are no right or wrong answers, just a place to start.)
1. Do you believe your partner is entitled to think differently than you do about important issues?
2. If you want your partner to change, are you willing to think about what you can do to make that change easier for him/her?
3. Are you willing to be vulnerable (i.e. talk about feelings like fear and shame) even if your partner is not?
Communication is one of the most common problems couples bring to therapy. You can learn better ways to communicate with your partner but these better ways will come at a price. You will probably feel uncomfortable. You will probably have to talk about your childhood and the ways you saw your parents communicate. You will probably have to identify your own dysfunctional communication patterns which may include some or all of the following:
• Avoiding/shutting down
• Being compliant (with resulting resentment)
• Threatening (divorce/abandonment/other dire consequences)
Good communication (like a good relationship) has its basis in vulnerability, openness and respect. Couples therapy won’t solve all your problems but it can help you develop important qualities like trust that lead you more easily to your own couple-solutions.
Trust is the foundation of all healthy relationships. Trust is developed over time and is based not only in the qualities of good communication listed above, but in the congruence between what is said and actual behavior (in other words, doing what you say you’ll do).
Thank you for your willingness to begin couples therapy before even walking into the office. I look forward to hearing your answers to these important questions.