Couples are often uncertain what to expect from the process of couples therapy. Most couples approach therapy with the notion that each person will describe their distress and somehow the therapist will assist them to create a happier, more functional relationship.
However, most people hope their partner will do most of the learning in problem areas.
What is soon discovered is that the therapist does not have a magic wand and one has to look within themselves to find answers to the problems within the relationship for effective healing.
Guidelines That Can Make Counseling More Effective
Experienced therapists have evolved principles, goals and objectives that give them the greatest chance for success in finding the underlying causes of the rift in the couple’s relationship. The primary role for the therapists is to help couples improve communication as well as set goals and objectives for the couple to discuss and ponder:
- The kind of life they want to build together
- The kind of partner they aspire to be in order to build the kind of life and relationship they want to create.
- Reviewing individual blocks to becoming the kind of partner they aspire to be.
- The skills and knowledge necessary to do the above tasks.
- A vision of the life you want to build together
- To have a life separate from your partner because you are not joined at the hip
- The appropriate attitudes and skills to work as a team
- The motivation and patience to persist
- Time to review progress. To create the relationship you really desire, there will be some difficult tradeoffs and tough choices for each person.
Important Concepts for Couples Therapy and Relationships
The following concepts can help couples identify areas of focus to work on outside the sessions. Real healing comes from the amount of work the couple is willing to put in separately and together putting into practice what was shared in session.
Attitude is Key
When it comes to improving your relationship, your attitude toward change is more important that what action to take.
Identifying what to do and how to do it is often easy to identify. The bigger challenge is why you don’t do it.
How to think differently about a problem is often more effective than just trying to figure out what action to take.
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 definite possibility exists that you have some flawed assumptions about your partner’s motives and that he/she has some flawed assumptions about yours. The problem is most of the time we don’t want to believe our assumptions are flawed.
Focus on Changing Yourself Rather than Your Partner
Couples therapy works best if you have more goals for yourself than for your partner. Problems occur when reality departs sharply from our expectations, hopes, desires and concerns. It’s human nature to try and change one’s partner instead of adjusting our expectations. This aspect of human nature is what keeps therapists in business.
The hardest part of couples therapy is the couple accepting the need to improve their 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. It’s more common to build a strong case for why the other should do the improving.
You can’t change your partner. Your partner can’t change you. You can influence each other, but that doesn’t mean you can change each other. Becoming a more effective partner is the most efficient way to change a relationship.
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 him into this mess, that’s when you get tested. Your leadership and your character get tested. You can join the finger pointing or become part of the solution to the problem.
The more you believe your partner should be different, the less initiative you will take to change the patterns between you.
Asking good questions–of yourself and your partner–helps you uncover flaws in the area of assumptions (dangerous area for couples) which left unchecked, become the basis for giving up and saying –” what’s the use?:
• In a strong disagreement, do you really believe your partner is entitled to their opinion?
• Under duress, do you have the courage and tenacity to seek your partner’s reality and the courage to express your reality when the stakes are high?
• Why is it important to let your partner know what you think, feel and are concerned about? (Because they really can’t appreciate what they don’t understand.)
• What is the price your partner will have to pay to improve their response to you? How much do you care about the price they will have to pay? (Everything has a price and we always pay it.)
• Can you legitimately expect your partner to treat you better than you treat him/her?
• If you want your partner to change, do you think about what you can do to make it easier?
• When a problem shows up, it’s natural to think “What should I do about it?”
A much more productive question is. “How do I aspire to be in this situation?”
The Importance of Communication
The three most important qualities for effective communication are respect, openness and persistence. Good communication is much more difficult than most people want to believe. Effective negotiation is even harder. 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 each. We are all responsible for how we express ourselves, no matter how others treat us.
Communication is the number one presenting problem in couples counseling. Effective communication means you need to pay attention to:
- Managing unruly emotions, such as anger that is too intense
- How you are communicating – whining, blaming, 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.
A more powerful approach to couple’s therapy sessions is for each member of the couple to do the following before each session:
- Remind yourself of your objectives for being in therapy.
- Think about your next step that supports or relates to your larger objectives for the kind of relationship you wish to create or the partner you aspire to become.
Remember the reasoning behind finding answers to change the endless fighting and negativity and conclude the following is for you:
“Marriage is the highest state of friendship. If happy, it lessens our cares by dividing them, at the same time that it doubles our pleasures by mutual participation.”
Couple in therapy photo available from Shutterstock