I know what an investment couple’s therapy can be and the vulnerability that goes with it. It helps to know what to expect. Here are some things to bear in mind as you consider therapy as a next step.
Know you will have to change – A relationship is a system, self sustaining much of the time. If you want something to change, you had better be ready to change yourself. It can be a comforting fantasy to imagine your partner doing all the changing, after all you have all kinds of good ideas about how they should be different, right? But it really does take two to do whatever it is that you have been doing. So when you get ready to go to couple’s therapy, know that you will be asked to get really interested in your part and what you can and cannot be responsible for.
Prepare to be surprised – Therapy opens up rooms in your life and heart and mind that may have been closed. Your partner will say things that surprise you. This is actually a gift, as we come to remember that our partners are slightly mysterious individuals with a lot going on inside of them that we are not automatically privy to. This can be scary, but also invigorating for a relationship. You will also surprise yourself in therapy with revelations about things you may have casually overlooked for years. Intimacy builds, I believe, through these moments of uncovering and risk, sometimes painful, sometimes incredibly comforting, but more genuine than normal talk around the dinner table.
Plan to make more time for your relationship – It is hard to stay close and interested in each other when you do not spend any focused time together. One therapy session a week will build some new intimacy but if it doesn’t continue at home we are wasting our time. One of the most important things couples can do to make their gains in therapy matter is to be ready to make changes to their schedules. I mean to literally sit down together with their calendars and carve out time to be a couple in relationship, time for talking, time to have fun, time to have sex, and time to relax together. If you are like most couples now, your time has gotten filled up with all kinds of activities of varying importance. To reinvest in your relationship, you are going to have to give some of those other obligations or habits up.
Find a skilled Therapist – If therapy feels like an extra hour a week that you have the same old arguments and leave feeling angry and wounded, then it is time to find a different therapist. Your therapist should be interacting with you, sometimes interrupting you or calling foul, shaking things up, and giving you a new experience or perspective on what has been going on in your relationship. Now, the therapist cannot do that without your help; you have to be willing to do something different. And the best therapist in the world will not be able to make couple’s therapy always fun and heartwarming. But therapy should never feel like more of the same or like a free for all to attack each other. Find a therapist who makes you both feel supported and challenged in balance.
Have an exit plan (and a backslide plan) – Some of the things I talk about with couple’s in therapy are quick fixes; things that can be repaired with some specific changes and then will flow smoothly. But often issues in couples’ therapy will continue to have some residue of hurt for some time. Rebuilding trust takes time. Changing ingrained patterns will take time and have some moments of backsliding. Before you close your couple’s therapy have a conversation about the realities of relationships, giving each other the benefit of the doubt when things are rocky, and what you will each commit to do if or when things start to feel difficult again. Returning to therapy is not a failure, it is a sign that you have the tools in place to be successful long term.
Is your relationship ready for some renewal? Consider a Couple’s Intensive with Melissa Fritchle, LMFT and Sex Therapist. Spend a few days in beautiful Santa Cruz with beach walks at dusk, private therapy sessions during the day, and heart-opening playful “homework” in the evening. You deserve to make your relationship as strong and intimate as it can be!