What to Expect in Couples Therapy
Written by Alysha Jeney, MA, LMFT Owner of Modern Love Counseling and Co-Founder of The Modern Love Box
“What to expect in couples therapy?” Is an important question you may be asking yourselves if you have never done it before. Counseling in general may seem overwhelming, as you know it can drudge up feelings that you have been trying to keep dormant for a loooooong time. Add your partner in the mix and it can feel even more daunting as you both feel uncomfortable feelings. Often times, people that have never done couples therapy can feel nervous that the boat is going to tip over, not just rock. Couples can feel nervous about the process bringing to light that they are not meant to be together. All reasons for feeling nervous about reaching out and exploring couples therapy are completely valid and incredibly common. (And yes, the boat will rock and it may even tip over. Yes, you could potentially discover that you aren’t wanting to pursue your relationship; but please know that in my 8 years of counseling, I rarely find that the boat completely sinks).
If you are confused with what to expect in couples therapy, take a deep breath. This blog will hopefully help you and your partner get a sense of what to expect in couples therapy and what are some potential red flags that could indicate you are not seeing the right couples therapist.
I do want to preface this list with an awareness that not all therapists are the same. Each of us has our own style, approach and philosophies. It is crucial to schedule a consultation with potential couples therapists in your area before scheduling an appointment to better determine fit. (Check out these important questions to ask your couples therapist).
What to Expect in Couples Therapy:
The couples therapist should be direct (way more direct than what you may have encountered in individual therapy).
This is because we have to be able to help the two of you navigate the intricate dance of your conflict style and we cannot be helpful in getting to your goals if we aren’t incredibly directive. A competent couples therapist should be willing to direct the sessions to help you both experience a different way to communicate with each other.
If you’re working with our practice, expect that we will see you both for for one 55 minute individual session on week 2.
This is because we honor both of you equally and we find it is important to assess the whole person in addition to the relationship. We like to understand how you view the world and where you have come from that has helped shape this view. This individual session is not meant to be a time to just express grievances about your partner; it is intended to getting to know each of you on a more individualized level. This helps us better understand your language, point of view and triggers when we encounter them in couples therapy.
You both will equally feel heard, validated and respected, (and yes, even if one of you “messed up.”)
The competent couples therapist, will always see you objectively. This means, we aren’t here to point fingers or take sides. Regardless of what brings you into therapy, we are here to help the two of you understand each other.
You will learn tools to better communicate… eventually.
It can take a lot of time to heal, reconnect and/or effectively communicate. Often times, we are unpacking subconscious childhood issues that have caused barriers in your current relationship. We are working on creating a level of trust that most likely neither of you have experienced before. So please be patient with the process and don’t expect immediate results.
You may feel like your relationship is getting worse, before it starts to feel better.
I tell my clients that the process of counseling is often like the process of losing 20lbs. In theory, it’s easy; you eat less, you work out more. Unfortunately the process is often more challenging then the theory and you both may find yourselves at a point in therapy when you are sore for days and have zero interest returning to the gym because you are completely discouraged. We are complicated beings and we need to be patient with ourselves and each other, as well as constantly give grace to the messy process.
Expect a focus on the process in which the two of you relate to each other. Not a focus on the “he-said/she-said” content of rehashing the same argument over and over again.
This is because we are here to support you both in restructuring the way the two of you communicate and relate to each other in the bigger picture. Although content in arguments can be important and sometimes what we discuss, it won’t be the constant focal point because it truly gets us no where. You are not paying to have your therapist watch you argue.
You’ll feel exposed.
Couples therapy is a vulnerable process and you may not always feel fully comfortable letting your guard down. This is normal! We will guide you.
Expect to argue in front of your couples therapist.
It is OK to argue in front of your couples therapist sometimes and know that it’s actually helpful for us to see how the two of you communicate. This is when we will often jump in to help slow things down and de-escalate the situation and help the two of you be more vulnerable.
Expect the couples therapist to interrupt you.
Part of our job is to help hold you both (lovingly) accountable for your unconscious actions, as well help the two of you process your emotions and pain effectively. We may interrupt you because we want to help the two of you discover your vulnerabilities, not just sit with your defensiveness and unprocessed reactions.
Expect to at least address sex.
It’s important to at least address sex, as it is a big part of your intimate relationship. A competent couples therapist will at least ask questions about your sex life even if we don’t stay on the topic. It’s important to know that sex and communication around sex is welcome in couples therapy.
Expect to learn more about yourself and your partner.
For better or worse… 🙂 It will all be empowering in the end.
Red Flags That Indicate You Are Not Seeing The Right Couples Therapist:
- The couples therapist just listens and never directs you two.
- The couples therapist never interrupts or helps the two of you de-escalate from heighten emotions/arguments.
- The couples therapist doesn’t help you both reframe conflict or help you see things from each other’s different perspective.
- The couples therapist doesn’t spend equal time hearing both of you (or address why they are spending more time with one person over the other strategically).
- The couples therapist takes sides overtly.
- The couples therapist never discusses sex, even if sex isn’t an issue.
- The couples therapist lets you drive every session.
- The couples therapist never addresses the elephant in the room.
Interested in scheduling an appointment with us? We are a small team of Relationship Therapists that specialize in couples and sex therapy. Please fill out a contact form and we will contact you within 48 hours!