Lots of people don’t get couples therapy because the idea is intimidating. They don’t know what to expect or how it works. This is a short explanation of how it works in my office.
I believe that the primary task in couples therapy, or any relationship counseling for that matter, is to work on yourself. The secondary goal is to change the relationship. The 3rd most critical task is to change your partner. By changing how you respond to your partner (changing yourself) you will change your relationship. By changing your relationship, you will change your partner because you will ultimately change how your partner will respond to you. I’ve been counseling couples for many years and at this point, this seems to be the straight forward description. Think about it; this is the way you can have control and get your relationship to change.
These changes are typically slow and subtle. Often people realize the changes have been made, after the fact, when they reflect back on how it used to be vs how it is now.
Changing yourself is hard. Very few people really realize that they come into counseling focused on improving their partner, yet when they ask themselves “What do I need to work on in order to be a better partner?” their responses are often vague. It might be “communicate better” but when I ask them “what would you need to do in order to be able to communicate better? they don’t know. On the other hand, when they are asked “What does your partner need to change about themselves?” their responses are lengthy and detailed.
The dilemma is that the more a person focuses their attention on their partner, the less energy they will utilize to change how they respond to that partner. And since you really can’t control how your partner changes, focusing on them means giving up control.
Assisting each partner to change how they respond is one of the primary tasks of good couples counseling.
You can help the process along, and will be asked to do so, by reflecting on: 1) What is problematic for you? 2) Why do you think that is a problem for you? 3) Where do you think you learned to respond the way you do? 4) How does the particular way you respond work for this relationship?
Identifying these issues and answering these questions is key to what happens in relationship therapy. Change follows!