So...What brings you to Couples' Therapy?
As simple as this question sounds, many couples come to therapy without a clear sense of what they want, or, if they've been fighting a lot, without the faith that their conflicts or problems can be resolved. They may come too angry or discouraged to talk openly about what they feel and want.
Other couples may be so resentful, they focus on what they want their partner to change, instead of what they actually want for their relationship.
Sometimes a couple has different perspectives about what they need, or may disagree about the goals of therapy.
If you are considering couples' therapy, you may discover that your goals for therapy are actually much different than you expected.
Here are a few questions to help you gain clarity about your goals for Couples’ Therapy:
Are you committed to being in this relationship?
Do you feel committed to your relationship and are you interested, motivated or willing to work things out? Do you feel checked out as if you have one foot out the door?
Be honest with yourself.
Even if you’re hurting or have lost confidence in your relationship, you may find you are open to working through these things with your partner. You may find a sense of renewed closeness and optimism as you work together to address your difficulties or conflicts.
On the other hand, you may feel that your relationship cannot be repaired. If so, couples’ therapy can support you to split amicably.
Or you might be somewhere in the middle where you don't necessarily want to split but you also don't see the point in couple's therapy. You may recognize that the relationship isn't ideal or what it used to be but you're also somewhat comfortable with or have accepted where things are. If this is the case, I invite you to envision your relationship say 5 years down the line if it continues the way it is now.
Do you envision the distance between you and your partner growing? Do you see resentment building? Do you imagine intimacy fading?
These things may be a sign that your relationship needs work now before it gets to a place where it's even more difficult to repair.
Whatever your situation, check in with yourself about your willingness to commit. Be curious about your level of motivation and be honest with what you want out of the relationship.
What would you like your partner to understand?
Sometimes we repeat the same request over and over to our partner and it seems they still don't get it.
Maybe you've been trying to tell them how leaving their dishes in the sink drives you crazy.
Maybe you've been dropping hint after hint that you want or need more help with the kids.
Whatever it is, it's likely you want them to empathize with you and really understand your feelings. This is reasonable to want from your partner.
What would be really helpful is for you to also understand your own underlying feelings. Let's take the first example above. Yes, the dishes drive you crazy...but what's underneath that? Do you feel unappreciated? Taken advantage of? Neglected? Does it impact how loving you feel toward your partner?
Reflecting on these questions can help you figure out your goals for therapy and help you communicate these goals with your partner.
What do you need to repair past offenses or infidelity?
Maybe you need a verbal commitment from your partner assuring you they will do whatever it takes to regain your trust.
Maybe you want to know that your partner will be truly open to hearing you out and learning more about what you have experienced.
Having a sense of what you need can be very helpful for both you and your partner. It can give you self-awareness and empowerment while helping you clarify what you need to reconcile.
You may also find that your relationship can not be salvaged. This is okay, too. There is clarity in this. Understanding and communicating your readiness or openness to repair can be very empowering.
What are you willing to change about yourself?
This one might be triggering for some. "Why do I need to change? She's the one that messed up!"
While I understand the conviction, unfortunately, this attitude is not likely to get you the results you want. Whether or not we want to admit it, relationships are about compromise. In order to get, you must also give.
Which of your partner's behaviors do you want to see more/less of? What do you think you could do to support these changes?
This might mean biting your tongue when you’re upset because you tend to say hurtful things you don’t mean or this could mean being more vocally appreciative of your partner.
In what ways are you willing to stretch yourself? What efforts are you willing to put forth in order to have the kind of relationship you want?