Most couples come to relationship counseling armed with complaints but have done little to prepare for the session. Couples tend to approach couples therapy as they would surgery – they expect the therapist to do something to the relationship to heal their pain.
In fact, couples therapists can only point the way to self-help, much as a workout coach can only point you in the direction of how to make the most of your workouts.
Here are some questions to ask your self prior to going to a relationship counselor:
- Are we each committed to taking this step? One partner may be able to profit from seeing a couples counselor but you will achieve much more with a mutual commitment to the change process.
- Are we prepared to devote time toward making changes in our relationship? Personal change is difficult but relationship change is more difficult. It takes time to establish trust that you are each willing to make an effort toward an improved relationship. Changing patterns that have been in place for years does not happen overnight!
- Can you identify potential stumbling blocks that will prevent you from continuing once you begin the counseling effort? Couples’ lives are filled with many things that can interfere with making regular appointments and following through with change efforts at home. If weeks or months from now you have not followed through, what is the likely reason?
- What are your expectations for the first session? Do you expect the focus to be on you, your partner or the relationship? Relationship counseling focuses on how you relate to one another. Fault-finding and blame leads to defensiveness. Are you prepared to look at your contribution to relationship problems?
- What outcome would you like to see? If your efforts would pay off, how would you like your relationship to be different? It may help to recall times when you saw your relationship as good.
- What are the characteristics of a good therapist? Think about how you expect the therapist to run the session. Most couples therapists are more active and directive in the session than are individual therapists, which are typically portrayed in media. Can you adjust your expectations?
- Are you coachable? Some athletes have difficulty taking direction from their coach. They don’t like being told what to do, even though it is in their best interest. Are you willing to accept feedback and to take direction for changing the way you interact with your partner?
Take time to consider each of these points before you plunge into couples therapy. Don’t treat couples therapy like you are taking your relationship to the emergency room for treatment. Instead, treat it as the beginning of a new, improved relationship that will pay off for years to come if you are each willing to make an effort.