If you’re thinking about, or have decided to get marriage counseling, good for you! Here are five top tips to help you make the most out of marriage counseling and get your relationship headed in the right direction.
1. Couples therapy is about the relationship – not you (or your spouse). Couples therapy feels different from individual therapy, where the focus is solely on you. Your therapist sees you as a unit and must align with you both. Your clinician will identify things that both of you are doing to create a dysfunctional dynamic. He will help each of you modify behaviors, improve communication, and attune to each other. You will be invited to examine your own behaviors that are contributing to the problem. If you want things to get better, be open to feedback on things you can do to solve the problem – not just your spouse.
2. Get clear about your presenting problem. Don’t go into your first session with 75 things you want to change about your spouse. You and your partner should discuss how you see the problem and mutual goals of therapy ahead of time. Try to see the problem as relational. Even if your spouse’s affair led you to seek treatment, it’s far better to say: “there’s been an infidelity and trust has been broken” than to list all of his (or her) wrongdoings. Couples therapy is more likely to be effective if you name the issue as the problem, not your spouse.
3. Fill out forms ahead of time. Like medical doctors, therapists have forms that you must fill out and sign before they can treat you. These forms include Informed Consent, New Client Information, HIPPA guidelines, and a Release of Information to talk to any other healthcare professionals that may help them treat you. To save time, obtain, fill out, and sign these forms prior to your session. Read them carefully and if you have any questions, be sure to ask your therapist at the beginning of the session.
4. Be willing to do homework. Most people go to therapy to get insight, but insight usually doesn’t change people — doing things differently does. Your therapist may give you assignments between sessions: reading, exercises, communication guidelines, etc. Do them! The only way you will improve your relationship is to change the way you relate to each other. The more seriously you take the homework, the better chances you have of working through your problems. The things your therapist is asking you to do may seem weird and uncomfortable; but aren’t those feelings you have any time you begin something new or try to change a habit? If you wait to feel inspired to do the homework, your marriage may fall apart first.
5. Be willing to work on yourself. When you’re angry with your partner, it’s easy to focus on the myriad of things they’re doing to make you miserable. But couples therapy will only work if you expand your focus to see what you are doing to contribute to the problem. This can be especially challenging if your spouse has done something to cause an acute crisis: an affair, running up debt, losing a job due to mental illness and/or addiction. While you’re not responsible for your spouse’s behavior, you are responsible for how you manage your own. Screaming, lecturing, nagging, enabling, trying to control your spouse – these are all common dysfunctional responses that make matters worse.
And one final tip, if you go into therapy expecting unilateral change from your spouse, you’ll waste time and money. At the end of the day, have peace knowing that you only have control over your own choices. Gave marriage counseling your all? Whatever happens, good for you! No matter what, focusing on your personal growth will improve your life.
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