Are you and your partner considering going to couples counseling? If you are, you are not alone. Many couples seek out programs in time of crisis, called marriage intensives, or other counseling to help improve their relationships. The vast majority of these couples report being happy with the experience and the results. More than 98% of the couples who were surveyed by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists said the help they received was either good or excellent. More than 97% reported that the help they received was what they needed. There are some things you can do to make the experience better for both of you.
- Go in planning to do more work on yourself than your partner or the marriage itself. That may seem counterintuitive. This is a good rule to follow even if you are in one of the marriage intensives. You may be in counseling to improve the marriage or to change your partner but the best way to do that is to work on changing yourself. The only person you can change is you. By working on your perceived shortcomings with you partner there, it will lead to changes in them and hopefully in your marriage. If you go into the process looking only to change things that are external to you, everyone will end up disappointed and nothing will change.
- Be open and honest and vulnerable. This is one of the harder parts of any therapy. This especially true for people in marriage intensives. If you are going to get anything out of the marriage counseling experience, you have to put yourself fully out there. Nothing but full cooperation will work. You will need to reach down to find the cause of your feelings and that can be hard and painful but if you are not willing to do that work, it may indicate other issues. The counselor will do what they can to make the safe in which you share yourself as safe as they can but you will have to take that leap of faith to make the experience work.
- Do not expect this to be like your individual counseling experiences. No matter what experiences you may have had with individual therapy, couples counseling is very different. If you loved it or hated it, leave those thoughts at the door and out of your couples therapy time. While you will be working on yourself, you should also work with the therapist and your partner on a host of other issues.
- Do the homework. You have probably heard the saying, “You get what you give.” That can absolutely be said of all levels of couples counseling from marriage intensives to general therapy. It took more than five minutes to get your relationship to the point where it is, it is going to take a lot more than that to get your relationship back on track. There are no quick fixes here. You may have things you need to do between sessions in addition to attending and participating in those.
- Do not compare your marriage therapy to another couple’s. You friends go once a week and you have to go more. What does it mean? Nothing. Every couple is unique and every situation is different. You want to take the time that you need to get your marriage to a better space. If you are not willing to put in the time, that may show there are problems that are deeper than can be fixed by therapy.
- Do not use the “D” word. You may find that, after you go through one of the marriage intensives or other couples counseling programs that it is time to divorce but that should not be the starting point for couples counseling. It is very common for people to turn to therapy when they think their marriage is over but you must think there is some hope if you are willing to talk to a counselor.
Therapy can be very helpful for a number of situations. That you are willing to go to a counselor to work on your marriage is a great sign that there is hope for it.