Ten Ways to Get the Most Out of Couples’ Therapy

February 28, 2011

By Kim Leatherdale

couple making the most out of therapyToo often couples come into my office looking for a magic wand.  They expect me to somehow “fix” what has been going on in their relationship.  They want me to give them that ultimate insight or one thing they need to do so they are “better.”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way; therapy is not a panacea.

Therapy only works if you do.

Keeping that in mind I have created a list of things you can do to make your couples counseling successful.  In no particular order, they are:

  1. Pay attention in your session and think about it later.  If you limit the time you devote to improving your relationship to only the hours you spend with your therapist nothing will get better.  You have to put mental, emotional and physical energy into making things work between sessions.  This leads to number 2.
  2. Be a scientist and open to ideas.  What I mean is try things out, test out the things you are learning and see what happens.  Try them multiple times (no scientist only tests one rat once.)  Even if you think it won’t work, try it.  Don’t negate or minimize new ideas; you never know where they’ll take you in your relationship.
  3. Make a regular commitment to yourself and your therapy. Don’t be an infrequent flyer.  You can’t do therapy a couple of times over a 6 month period and think you really spent any time on it.  Couples’ counseling should feel a bit intense and difficult.  It is work and it needs to be done regularly for it to make a difference both in session and between them.
  4. Be honest (with yourself, your partner and your therapist.)  Your counselor can’t help you if you are lying to him/her and lying includes withholding information.  Honesty extends to your behaviors, too; if you say you’ll do something, do it.  If you don’t think you will, say so.
  5. Walk the walk, and don’t just talk the talk.  As I said in #4, do what you say you’ll do.  Don’t pretend to be perfect in session and then go home and stop following through.  You must live what you are learning in order to improve your relationships.
  6. Think win-win.  Real couples counseling is about two people who want to connect again.  If you are in it to “win” or prove the other person “wrong” then you are not truly in couples’ counseling.  A healthy relationship realizes both parties can “win” and both can be “right” without either losing respect.
  7. Participate, talk, think, ask questions, be there.  You need to be involved in your sessions in order to get the most out of them.  Ask questions and share thoughts (write them down between sessions.) Turn off your cell phones.  I have lost count of the number of times I have had people think texting or accepting calls in a session is okay.  It is not only rude to me, but rude to your partner.  I am always interested in what this indicates about the relationship.
  8. Allow yourself and your partner to make reasonable mistakes while remaining positive and realistic.  Each person is learning new behaviors, skills, and ways of thinking; you are bound to make mistakes or fall back into old patterns.  This doesn’t mean you haven’t made progress, just that you have to get back on track.  Now, if the same mistake keeps happening, make sure you bring it up to your counselor for help.
  9. Make changes in your behaviors.  Notice I said your behavior?  Marriage therapy isn’t about changing your spouse.  The work to be done will be on yourself; your partner will have their work, but you aren’t responsible for theirs.  Additionally, you have to change your behaviors.  Insight is great, but it is behavioral change that improves your life and relationship.  A therapist can talk to you until they are blue in the face giving you information and insight, but it isn’t until you apply the information and make change that your relationship will get better.
  10. Find a therapist you can work with, but don’t leave just because a therapist says something you don’t like. And don’t keep threatening to leave.  Counseling is a personal thing and as such you both need to feel reasonably comfortable with the therapist you work with.  However, it is important you choose someone and work long enough with them.  Additionally, I have seen one or both people in a couple make threats or moves to leave when they are in the midst of hard work because it is hard.  Stick it out and do the work; you’ll be happy you did.

What these boil down to is be a partner in your therapy.  You have the power to make it work, no one else – not even your therapist no matter how good he or she is. I will say it again, therapy only works if you do.

Kim Leatherdale About the Author: Kim Leatherdale is a licensed professional counselor and relationship blogger. She offers on-line, phone, and in office counseling and relationship coaching. For more information visit her website: CreatingRewardingRelationships, Facebook page: CreatingRewardingRelationships, or Twitter account: HappyCoupleXprt

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