How To Get The Most Out Of Couples Therapy
How to get the most out of couples therapy at Sex Therapy in Philadelphia: you have made an important choice: to invest in the improvement of your relationship. By developing appropriate expectations and following a few suggestions, your investment in couples therapy can reap great rewards. This document is designed to help you get the most benefit from our work together in couples therapy.
In couples counseling at Sex Therapy in Philadelphia, both the clients and the therapist have jobs to do. Your job is to create your own individual objectives for being in couples therapy. Like a good coach, my job at a therapist is to help you reach them. I have many, many tools to help you become a more effective partner — and my tools work best when you are clear about how you aspire to be. My goal is to help each of you make better adjustments and responses to each other without violating your core values or deeply-held principles.
Goals of Couples Therapy The overall goal of therapy is to improve your relationship in ways meaningful to you. To do this, you must increase your knowledge about yourself, your partner and the patterns of interaction between you. Therapy becomes effective as you apply the new knowledge to break ineffective patterns and develop more useful ones. A couple’s vision emerges from a process of reflection and inquiry. It requires both people to speak from the heart about what really matters to them.
Your initial tasks will be to increase your clarity about:
- The kind of life you want to build together
- The kind of partner you aspire to be in order to build the kind of life you want together
- Your individual blocks to becoming the kind of partner you aspire to be
- The skills and knowledge necessary to reach your goals
To create and sustain improvement in your relationship requires:
- A vision of the life you want to build together and individually
- The appropriate attitudes and skills to work as a team
- The motivation to persist
- Sustained effort
- Time to review progress and make adjustments as necessary
Tradeoffs To create the relationship you really desire, there will be some difficult tradeoffs and tough choices for each of you. Here are a few you can expect.
Time Investment It simply takes time to create a relationship that flourishes, time to be together, play, coordinate, nurture, relax, hang out, plan, etc. The time you devote to healing your relationship will be time stolen from elsewhere, perhaps from other important and valuable areas of your life — your personal time, your social time and/or your professional time.
Discomfort Expect emotional discomfort, as it is always part of the growth process. In therapy you will try novel ways of thinking and behaving, like listening and being curious instead of interrupting your partner, and speaking up instead of becoming resentfully compliant or withdrawing. Your growth depends on your willingness to tolerate this discomfort.
Expending Energy It simply takes effort to sustain improvement over time. You will need to be intentional about your relationship. It will require effort to remember to be more respectful, more giving, more appreciative, etc. Placing the relationship on autopilot, for many couples, just does not work.
Getting the Most from Your Sessions By following these suggestions, you can make the best use of your time in therapy. For many clients, it’s useful to approach each session as you would an important business meeting. That means arriving on time and arriving prepared.
There are several mistakes couples often make in therapy. The first is showing up without a plan. This is when one of you asks “what do you want to talk about today” and the other says “I don’t know. What do you want to talk about?” While this blank slate approach may open some interesting doors, it is a hit or miss process.
The second is the stream-of-consciousness approach. This happens when the focus of the session is on whatever happens to be on your mind at that moment. Again, while such discussions can be interesting, they may not be the best use of your time.
The third is discussing the fight of the moment or the fight you had since the last session. Discussing these fights without also discussing what you wish to learn from them is often an exercise in spinning your wheels.
Here is a more useful approach to your sessions. Before every meeting, both of you should:
- Reflect on your goals for being in therapy
- Think about the next step you want to take to get closer to reaching your goals
- Be ready to discuss the outcome of your completed homework
- Give Your Success a Chance
It Takes Two The blunt reality is that therapy requires time, patience, effort, and commitment from both partners. In an interdependent relationship these investments must be made by both to achieve and sustain improvement. It is much like pairs figure skating: one person cannot do most of the work and expect to create an exceptional team.
Embrace Change When it comes to improving your relationship, expecting and accepting change will take you far. While change can be scary, it is only through change that you can reach your goals. After all, what you’ve been doing has not been working for you, or else you would not be in therapy. It’s time to try something new.
Improve Your Relationship by Improving Yourself It is typical for clients to begin therapy with the goal of changing their partners. You may think “if only she would stop doing ____” or “if only he would start doing ____ then everything would be fine.” Unfortunately, this never works. You are in control of only one person: yourself. If you want to have a better partner, you need to be a better partner. You can’t change your partner. Your partner can’t change you. You can influence each other, but you can’t change each other. Becoming a more effective partner is the most efficient way to change a relationship.
Things to Think About Finally, in this section I’ve included some things for you to think about. These ideas may help you better understand your problem, provide you with language to help you discuss your problem, or help you articulate your goals.
Getting Real Marriages (and businesses) fail for the same three reasons. A failure to:
- Learn from the past
- Adapt to changing conditions
- Predict probable future problems and take preventative action
Can you legitimately expect your partner to treat you better than you treat him/her?
The possibility exists that we choose partners we need but don’t necessarily want.
If you want to create a win-win solution, you cannot hold a position that has caused your partner to lose in the past.
Effective change requires insight and action. Action without insight is thoughtless. Insight without action is passive.
Everything you do works for some part of you, even if other parts of you don’t like it.
The hardest part of therapy is accepting you will need to improve your response to a problem (how you think about it, feel about it, or what to do about it). Very few people want to focus on improving their response, since it’s much easier to build a strong case for why your partner should do the improving.
It’s easy to be considerate and loving to your partner when the vistas are magnificent, the sun is shining and breezes are gentle. But when it gets bone chilling cold, you’re hungry and tired, and your partner is whining and sniveling about how you got them into this mess, that’s when you get tested. Your leadership and your character get tested. You can join the finger pointing or become how you aspire to become.
Everything you do that requires sustained effort is governed by three motivations:
- You want to avoid pain or discomfort
- You want the benefits the behavior offers
- You want to be a better person
Communication The possibility exists that you have some flawed assumptions about your partner’s motives, and that he/she has some flawed assumptions about yours. Check out your assumptions.
We are all responsible for how we express ourselves, no matter how others treat us.
Your partner is quite limited in his/her ability to respond to you. You are quite limited in your ability to respond to your partner. Accepting that is a huge step into maturity.
The three most important qualities for effective communication are respect, openness and persistence.
It is essential for you to let your partner know what you think, feel and are concerned about. Partners can’t appreciate what they don’t understand, and people cannot read each other’s minds.
Most of the ineffective things we do in relationships fall into just a few categories:
- Blame or attempt to dominate
- Disengage / withdraw
- Become resentfully compliant
- Denial or confusion
Effective communication means paying attention to:
- Managing unruly emotions, such as intense anger
- How you are communicating — whining, blaming, being vague, etc.
- What you want from your partner during the discussion
- What the problem symbolizes to you
- The outcome you want from the discussion
- Your partner’s major concerns
- How you can help your partner become more responsive to you
- The beliefs and attitudes you have about the problem
adapted from “How To Get The Most From Couples Therapy” by Ellen Bader, Ph.D. and Peter Pearson, Ph.D. http://www.couplesinstitute.com/