By Lisa Kift, MFT
Long lasting, successful relationships can be hard work and it’s normal for couples to encounter rough waters at times. In fact, it’s inevitable. As a relationship therapist, I’ve seen enough struggling couples in my office to know that it’s very common for people to run into trouble and need a little outside assistance. It’s an act of bravery for people to drag their weary selves – and their personal issues – into a therapist’s office and lay them at his/her feet. Reality dictates that not everyone will be able to salvage their relationships. Sometimes the tangled weeds of resentment are too thick or the love as it once was is truly gone. However, I believe in the counseling process to help those really wanting it. Having witnessed all types of couples with all sorts of attitudes, I’ve been able to identify some things that people pondering couples counseling should consider prior to beginning the process. If you’re considering couples counseling these points will help you and your partner get the most out of your time, effort and money!
Here are my five tips to get the most out of couples counseling that apply to both you and your partner:
1) Acknowledge A Problem Exists: How do each of you define the problem? Believe it or not, it’s not uncommon for one of the partners to deny there’s an issue. Or, the partner says something like, “Well, if he’s upset about….then it’s his problem.” Guess what… If your partner has a problem that is relationship-related then it is your problem because it’s a problem of the relationship.
2) Acknowledge You Might Contribute to the Problem: It’s helpful to view a relationship as a system – where there’s a certain homeostasis or balance occurring between the two elements of the system (the partners). The two parts can’t help but impact and interrelate with each other. When one of you behaves in a certain way there’s a reaction by your mate – and vice versa. It’s a rare day when one person is solely responsible for all of the problems in a relationship. There are cycles or dances occurring constantly. As they say, “it takes two to tango.”
3) Be Willing to Consider Behavioral Change: A willingness to make adjustments in how you each act with each other for the sake of the relationship will take you far in the counseling process. By taking this position you’re saying, “You’re worth it. This relationship is worth it. I’m willing to meet you halfway.”
4) Monitor Your Expectations: Be aware of your expectations of the therapist. I know the look. A couple sits before me on the couch, eyes pleading, “Fix me.” Or I will be asked directly, “Tell us what you think we should do.” If I had a magic wand next to my chair, I’d pull it out and use it but I don’t! My role as a couples counselor is to guide, explore, increase awareness and educate about aspects of healthy relationships. The most powerful change occurs between the couple – not as the direct result of a fancy trick I’ve pulled out of my bag.
5) Be Patient: The amount of time couples counseling takes is dependent on a number of factors including amount of resentment built up, length of time being unhappy and willingness to do things differently, to name just a few. It’s definitely an investment of time, effort and hard earned money which can be frustrating and stressful for some people. This is totally understandable. Try to stay focused on the goal – which is to get you and your partner on track again with a solid relationship foundation. Remember, this is a life long investment.
Couples counseling can be a number of experiences to different people; powerful, stressful, enlightening, emotional, insightful, connecting, upsetting and so on. If you feel it could help your relationship, I encourage you to discuss the previous points with your partner. Ideally, you agree with all of them but if you don’t, this doesn’t necessarily mean couples counseling isn’t for you. These are only suggestions to assist you in increasing the odds of getting the most out of the process. A skilled counselor can still help you navigate through the murky waters – if that’s what you both want.
Lisa Brookes Kift is a Marriage and Family Therapist providing individual and couples therapy in San Diego, California. She is also the author of numerous mental health and relationship articles. Visit her website at http://loveandlifetoolbox.com