Relationship therapy (couples therapy) is a collaborative conversation between you and your therapist. Your therapist has the skills to help guide you to explore new ideas and existing strengths and barriers, but they are not all-knowing. Anticipate going into therapy to be an active and willing participant in your relationship growth.
This starts by considering a few essential ideas before you commence sessions. These may include:
- Why therapy now? Are there external forces driving you towards this or is it just “time” to deal with the issues?
- Are you and your partner ready to address your relationship issues? Are you both invested in making the time to do the work necessary to effect meaningful change?
Is now the best time for you both to tackle these issues? External pressures such as significant life transitions, financial pressures, external strains can negatively impact your motivation, commitment and perseverance. Sometimes it is better to wait a little longer until the decks have cleared and you have the mental space and emotional energy to engage.
- Does your relationship have good “bones” – Are you still friends? Do you fundamentally like each other? Do you have shared values? Is there forgiveness, empathy and respect available in the relationship? Can you be comfortable feeling vulnerable with your partner, and having them be vulnerable with you?
- What are your goals in going into therapy? Are you ending a relationship? Starting a relationship? Stuck on perpetual issues? Dealing with the fall-out from an affair? Have sexual functioning concerns? Feeling ambivalent about being in the relationship? Something else
- How long can you commit to working on this relationship? What capacity do you have to engage fully in the process required for meaningful change for the time it takes?
It is also helpful to consider what you are expecting from therapy. Do you have any assumptions, requirements, preferences that need to be taken into account in selecting your therapist? Think about the type of therapist you both might work effectively with. Finding a good fit for you is a big part of getting great outcomes from therapy.
Every therapist works differently and brings unique qualities of themselves and their background to the counselling setting. You may prefer someone who is more active or passive, who is likely to challenge you to focus on feelings, or encourage you to be more grounded.
We often gravitate to that which is familiar, but in therapy it can be important to select a therapist who will help you develop the lesser-used strengths you have. If, for instance, you are someone who likes to intellectualise your problems, then perhaps the very skill likely to give you maximum change is to learn how to get in touch with your feelings. Feeling comfortable in therapy is important, but being complacent keeps you stuck.