Any couple considering or contemplating taking their private problems to a complete stranger in couples therapy may wonder: What will we talk about? Will the therapist take sides? Will the therapist be able to solve the problem?
These are just a few of the many questions that revolve around taking the first steps to couples therapy. I want to give some clarity on the effectiveness of couples counseling, as well as some very pragmatic ideas that surround the experience.
Adjusting Your Expectations
I have found two foundational components to be the most impactful for any couple seeking therapy. The first is the presenting problem that the couple is experiencing, and the second is the relationship they form with the counselor.
Many couples seek therapy when they experience a phase of life impasse or are trying to reconcile an affair, infidelity, or emotional betrayal. Each issue for which a couple seeks help presents very different and highly nuanced variables.
For example, a couple who has recently experienced a long-term affair is probably bringing to counseling a great deal of emotional and psychological pain surrounding shame, guilt, deception, and distrust.
Conversely, a couple who is seeking counseling because they have difficulty working out the division of labor regarding childrearing may be experiencing high levels of irritation and frustration.
Each couple is experiencing discomfort. However, the level of discomfort directly influences the counseling and timetable.
I have worked with couples for 4-5 sessions and heard, “We have never been better and we think we’re ready to end counseling.” I’ve also heard from other couples after 15 sessions, “This isn’t working.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to individual matters of the heart and mind, there is no secret recipe. This is important idea for couples to think about before you begin couples therapy. If you have experienced years of emotional and psychological trauma, you should walk into couples therapy expecting that it will take time to unearth and explore the issues.
From my standpoint and every counselor I know, we want to help you, and we want to be working ourselves out of a job. Counseling is a process that involves time and energy. If you enter couples therapy with the expectation that the counselor will be able to solve all your problems within a matter of a few sessions, then couples counseling may appear to not work.
However, if you presume that the duration of counseling should reflect the merit and attention the difficulties your marriage is experiencing, then you will be more than happy to give the time needed to work and grow back to health and prosperity.
In one instance, during the first appointment of a couples session, a husband asked me how long it would take before I would start to take his wife’s side. As cliche and foretold as it is, this is one of the most common and fear-provoking elements of couples counseling — which leads me to my next point: the importance of finding the right counselor.
Finding the Right Counselor for Couples Therapy
The majority of couples I see come to me because the husband asked to specifically see a male counselor to hedge against them feeling bullied or teamed up on during the session.
The question, “How will the counselor hear and see me?” is so important in any counseling experience, but even more so in couples therapy when the husband often feels he will be on the receiving end of blame and finger pointing.
It has been said that when a client walks into a first session it takes about ten seconds for them to decide whether the counselor can help them or not.
A couples counselor’s job is to make you feel heard, understood, safe, and to give you the elbow room to explore the spaces that are sensitive and vulnerable without judgement. If you are not experiencing that with your couples counselor, you may want to raise the red flag.
Unfortunately, I cannot speak on behalf of all the therapists in the world, and it is not lost on me that there are counselors out there who are — shall we say, “less than perfect.” With that being said, I want to empower you as a couple to find a therapist who can encompass the explicit and subtle elements you need as a couple looking for guidance.
How do you do that? The same way you found a babysitter, the church you attend, the friends you surround yourself with, or the new car or ice cream flavor you decided to buy.
You are your biggest advocate. I urge you to search and look for that perfect fit. Moreover, the first and most important factor in any therapeutic relationship is not the tools they teach you, the behaviors they help you modify, or thoughts they help you reduce; it the fundamental human connection they make with you.
When we feel that someone else genuinely wants to help us, we feel motivated and energized to help ourselves. It is within this simplistic framework that the magic happens and the lightbulb moments are able to materialize.
More often than not, couples come into counseling looking for the secret recipe or ingredient to solve their problem. One person brings their list of items they want the other to change, and visa versa. They both stare at the counselor, hoping they will receive a set of instructions tailor made to cause a chain reaction of positivity and change.
If a counselor could solve all problems and did have the secret list, then there wouldn’t be a need for an article like this. Every person who walks into my office never fails to surprise and amaze me with their level of uniqueness and individuality.
People are beautiful mosaics in and of themselves, and when a couple enters my room, the stained glass window that they have become is filled with pieces that never existed before they met. We don’t live in a vacuum of space and time; likewise, our problems, perceptions, and thoughts are ebbing and flowing throughout our journey.
So, does couples therapy work? Yes! When you as a couple are ready to mirror the help you need with the issues you are facing and have found the right counselor, wonderful progress can be made.
“Comfort”, Courtesy of NeONBRAND, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bike Ride”, Courtesy of Everton Vila, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Face-To-Face”, Courtesy of Hannah Busing, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Making a Cake”, Courtesy of Monika Grabkowska, Unsplash.com, CC0 License