What Can We Expect From Couples’ Therapy?
By: Kelsey Harrold, M.S.
Considering engaging in couples’ therapy and whether to trust a stranger with something as important as your romantic relationship can be a daunting task. It takes courage and an ability to take a risk to come in and make a commitment to couples’ work. As a relational therapist I consider it an honor when a couple comes into my room and allows me to support them during their therapeutic process. My hope is that some of the following information will provide clarity on what to expect and what to start to think about when preparing for a couple’s session. Of course, every therapist has their own style and can be slightly different, but I practice emotionally focused couples’ therapy (EFT) and will be providing information based on that lens (Johnson, 2004). It is also important to note that each couple is unique in their own way, but this will provide a basic overview of aspects of couples’ therapy.
Getting Ready for Couples Therapy:
Something to keep in mind when considering couples’ work is the level of commitment that each partner has towards working on the relationship. Going through couples’ therapy can be a vulnerable process, which requires commitment to sit with your partner and have your partner sit with you. Another aspect to think about are goals. Do you and your partner have similar goals? For example, increase communication, heal and repair relationship, create stronger connection and or increase understanding of one another to name a few.
Exploring Interacting Patterns and Communication:
Healthy communication is key in any relationship. Often couples come into therapy hoping to work on communication skills. In the beginning of therapy this is especially important in order to create space for future work on the relationship. It does not always matter what a couple is arguing about whether it be finances, chores, and or parenting but the way the couple is communicating about those things. The therapist will help slow the couple down to recognize their communication patterns and rework them in order to serve the couple better.
Creating Greater Understanding and Connection:
As healthier communication patterns are being created the couple can continue by creating greater understanding and connection with one another. This part of couples’ therapy can be rich and valuable but difficult as couple gets more in touch with their emotional experience. This requires vulnerability and a safe space to be heard and supported. Starting to highlight what we need to feel supported, ask for it and have partner respond. This is a tough process because you and your partner may be feeling and expressing uncomfortable emotions such as fear, anger, resentment, sadness, shame and or guilt. The healing piece comes in when couples are able to sit with some of these difficult emotions and acknowledge them. It is important to be able to sit in a space to feel emotions and hear your partners.
Another aspect in gaining greater understanding and connection is through exploring the story of self, partner and relationship. Some important aspects that may be explored are relationship dynamic, gender roles, expectations, community, culture, values, beliefs, career and family. Exploring these areas help create greater understanding for self and partner. Learning more about who your partner is and what influences their experiences and in turn the relationship.
A common question often asked at the end of the first session is “Okay but can you tell me if this is going to save our relationship?”. It is a very understandable but difficult question to answer. Your therapist cannot guarantee that couples’ therapy will save your relationship, but it can provide clarity for self and relationship. This can be a hard thing to hear especially, if a couple is experiencing great distress. However, let me give some hope here. There is hope to achieve your goals in regards to your relationship. It will not be easy but with a commitment to the work change can happen.
Written by: Kelsey Harrold, M.S., Doctoral Candidate
Johnson, S. M. (2004).The practice of emotionally focused couple therapy: Creating connection. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.