Going To Couples Counseling? Beware of these 3 counseling pitfalls
Sometimes I hear things like, “We went to couples therapy and it didn’t work!”
Or, “When we went to therapy, all we did was talk about the fight we had the week before — I never felt like we were getting anywhere.”
Most couples engage in couples therapy because they want to change what is happening in their relationships. Working with a therapist who is skilled at doing relationship, marriage, and couples work is paramount to the process of couples therapy. If you are not sure ask questions like these:
What percentage of your practice is couples?
How many couples do you work with per week?
How do you help your couples get from where they are to where they want to be?
If your therapist does not have a plan, then couples therapy can feel like being on a boat without a rudder.
Here are three things NOT to do in couples counseling sessions.
#1 — Do Not Focus On What Is Happening In The Moment
Counter-intuitive I know! A common yet unproductive pattern in couples therapy is focusing on the “issue-du-jour”. You know, the annoyance or irritation that happens to be on someone’s mind when you walk in to the therapist’s office.
When you focus on what is happening in the moment, you are missing the systemic nature of the issue in your relationship. And without examining the root of the issue, you will be left having the same argument over and over again.
These “in-the-moment issues” change every day and you can spend a lot of your time spinning your wheels chasing them. Don’t take the bait! Focus on the core or underlying issues and if you don’t know what they are (which is likely why your are in counseling) then ask your therapist.
#2 — Do Not Show Up Unprepared
The second unproductive pattern is showing up unprepared. Would you show up to your CPA’s office without your bank statements, accounting documentation, or a mental list of what needed to be addressed? Would you schedule an appointment with your attorney without a list of items that you needed to discuss? Probably not.
This blank slate approach may open some interesting avenues for exploration but it is not the most laser focused strategy to help you get from where you are to where you want to be.
It is your therapists job to hold a strong container for you and your partner to do some work. Your therapist will help guide you to create individual goals to help you move forward. Your job is to show up to session with something to report about how you are doing working toward your goals. This might include things like:
In our most recent argument, how did I show up in a new way?
Was I able to identify triggers to my unproductive patterns?
Did I practice managing my own anxiety when my partner became upset with me? What what that like?
Where am I feel blocked from showing up as the partner that I aspire to be?
#3 — Do Not Focus On The Most Recent Fight
The third common unproductive pattern is spending each week talking about the fight that you had in between sessions. This is so common but not the most effective use of your time with your therapist.
Focusing on what your partner did, how your partner needs to change, and what your partner did wrong is a surefire way to get you back where you started. It is important to practice becoming aware of the larger context of what is happening with you and your partner, your role in the disagreement, how you were triggered, what kind of partner you were in the moment and who you might aspire to be. This is where real change begins.
If you employ the above strategies, you will find yourself wondering,“Are we getting anywhere?”
A more powerful and effective approach to your couples therapy sessions is for each person to do the following before each session:
1. Consider your objectives for being in therapy in the first place. What did you want to change?
2. Think about your next step that supports or relates to your larger objectives for the kind of relationship you wish to create, or the partner you aspire to become.
Preparation makes the investment of couples therapy pay high dividends. It can be effective, efficient, and productive if you take the steps to make it that way.