Answers to Common Questions About Couples Therapy
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If you are new to couples therapy – welcome! It is normal to have questions about how couples therapy works. We are happy to guide you to make it as simple as possible to get started.
If you have been to couples therapy before – welcome! We would love to tell you how working with us might be different, and why we believe so much in the way we help couples grow and heal.
We consider the following factors in considering how long it might take a couple to reach their goals.
Some of these are not changeable, and some you can do quite a bit to move things along positively and quickly.
Factors that can influence how long couples therapy will take:
The couple’s history: How long have problems been occurring? Have there been significant betrayals or losses of trust?
The couple’s communication: How often or willing are you to talk about things together when it’s calm, outside of arguments? How aware are you of what you share (and don’t share) about your thoughts and feelings? How aware are you of how you share your feelings and thoughts (tone, body language, word choice)?
The individual’s history: What were you taught about expression of feelings? Are there significant traumas you’ve experienced that affect how you feel in the world and in close relationships?
While you may have circumstances you cannot change (who your family was, any traumatic experiences), there is so much we can do to understand, heal and build compassion for ourselves and our partners.
Traumatic experiences can be healed, and one of the best places to do that is with the person you love. Couples counseling can help you share and heal together as a couple. You can become that safe haven and secure base for each other that your family may not have been.
The “Roll Up the Sleeves Factor”
Some couples want all the homework assignments and books to read that we can recommend. Those couples are comfortable and prioritize working on things outside of session.
Other couples find they don’t really want to read a book, find it hard to carve out time to talk about their relationship, or get easily triggered and stuck in arguments.
Wherever you are as a couple, we will meet you there. If you want guidance with how to “roll up your sleeves” as a couple, we will show you how to maximize your sessions and reach your goals as quickly as possible. If you need a little more help, a slower pace, and benefit from the structure and motivation that a couples therapy session provides, we will be right alongside you, fighting for your relationship.
We will want to hear from both of you why you are seeking couples counseling and what your goals are. We will also ask both of you what happens when you’re not getting along. We will get both perspectives on what triggers it, what that feels like, what you do, how your partner reacts, how it ends and what a repair attempt looks like, if any.
We will ask about your sex life and if this is an important topic for us to explore. We will want to understand distance and closeness in your relationship and how it goes when you try to talk about how your relationship feels for both of you.
We sometimes schedule one individual appointment with each person following the first couples counseling appointment so that we can get a more in-depth history for both of you and have a “brain dump” about how things are going.
Our goals as couples counselors is to have you both feel:
- Heard by us
- That we are beginning to understand the relationship from each person’s perspective
- Hopeful and that forward momentum was created
- That you have a basic understanding of what we will work on to help you reach your goals
The great news is that Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy is a well-researched, full-fledged model for helping couples work through disconnection, hurts and fears so that they can have a strong, secure and satisfying relationship.
We will be using the map of EFT to help you progress from one session to the next. Read more here about what does and doesn’t happen in Emotionally Focused Therapy Sessions.
Clients often feel surprised to uncover so many feelings they’ve been experiencing but not fully detected or understood. When you are clearer about what’s happening for you, it’s much easier to share with your partner. If you’re very clear on what doesn’t feel good and you’re frustrated that things don’t seem to get better, we can explore the patterns that occur around those issues and make sure on your end that you’re reaching out to your partner in the ways that are most likely to get the response that would feel good.
We can also discuss how to talk to your partner about working on your relationship, and work through how you might respond to objections and concerns about couples therapy.
We work with many couples who come back from the brink of divorce or break up. We assume when couples come to see us that they are invested in their relationship. We join you in your goals and help you fight for your relationship to be better.
By the time many couples start therapy, they feel discouraged, afraid of whether repair is possible, and hurt by the problems in the relationship. We help couples share these feelings in ways that can actually bring relief, hope and eventually closeness as couples begin to feel their needs met.
If one or both partners decide that they can no longer reach out to their partner and wish to end the relationship, we still see our primary role as that of helping you have more loving, vulnerable conversations. This is especially true when children are involved. If couples decide to say goodbye, we help them to have the best goodbye possible.
At Thrive, we believe couples should:
- Work with a therapist who has advanced training and specializes in couples therapy, and not a generalist
- Be in charge of what we talk about in sessions
- Decide how long sessions last based upon your schedules and your needs at the time
- Be empowered to see their negative patterns as the common enemy and not have to use sessions to work on one person’s mental health diagnosis
- Have the right to privacy around their relationship challenges
Most couples challenges are best worked out with your partner present. We want to help you learn to talk to each other about anything, and deal with any situation life can throw at you.
To try to work on relationship difficulties without your partner is not impossible, but much more difficult! For example, once you get home, it’s easy for you to miss opportunities to grow closer as well as effectively work through moments where you or your partner feel triggered. In couples therapy, we catch those opportunities and work through them right as they are happening.
The most common exceptions are:
- When there’s an ongoing addiction
- When there’s an ongoing affair
- When there is ongoing physical violence
In those situations, we may recommend that couples therapy happen in conjunction to individual counseling or pause the couples therapy until the situation is more stable and safe. Safety is an important requirement for any couples therapy to be successful.