Not many people know what to expect from couple therapy, let alone how to make the best use of it. Having spent all the time, effort and money on getting to therapy it’s natural that you want to get the most out of it. There are a few practical things you can do to make therapy more effective for yourself
Focus on yourself
It may sound strange to say this when you are coming for couple therapy but it’s important that you realise from the outset that the only person you can change, the only person you have control of is YOU. A lot of time people come to therapy focused on what their partner is doing that they don’t like, are sick of, hurt by or annoyed about. Occasionally they have good reason (e.g. if their partner has been unfaithful or violent). A lot of the time, though, and even alongside these reasons, a cycle or pattern of interaction exists in any relationship and BOTH people and are responsible for creating.
For therapy to be successful, your attitude – your willingness to take responsibility for your behaviour – is central. As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango. Focus on what your contribution is to the cycles in the relationship, accept responsibility for it and work on changing it is the surest way of improving your relationship. In most cases, if the relationship is going to survive, let alone thrive, it will be necessary for your partner to do the same. But that part is not under your control. Do your bit and wait and see what your partner does.
Be willing to take emotional risks
Most people are nervous when they come for couple therapy. That’s understandable, usually there’s a lot on the line. But it’s important to still talk honestly, even if you fear it will rock the boat or show you in a bad light or hurt your partner or whatever. If you can, show some tact and care in how you speak your truth. You can also remind your partner of your positive intent before you speak. But do speak up.
For others the challenge lies in listening. Can you consider whether your partner’s complaints about you have some basis? Can you stay open to their experience, even if it shows you in a poor light? Likewise, if your therapist is giving you feedback that makes you uncomfortable, try and stay open the the idea that they are seeing you more clearly than you see yourself.
Think about therapy
If you put therapy in a box and never think about it except when you are in our room you aren’t going to get much out of it. Think about what’s been said to you about you, about what the implications are if your therapist is right and, if you think they are wrong, what is your understanding of why things are happening. Make sure you share these thoughts at the next session. Making notes of your thoughts is often necessary, otherwise we tend to forget this stuff.
Discuss therapy sessions and work as a collaborative team
If you want to learn something new, you need to review and rehearse it. If you are both in the same car, do this straight after the session, otherwise do it as soon as is practical (e.g. that evening). You are much more likely to remember what was said in a therapy session if you repeat it out loud soon after. Compare notes about what you heard and what you think it meant. Try and focus on yourself, not what your partner should do differently. Talk about what did and didn’t make sense to you, what seeemed helpful to you, what you thought the therapist was driving at and why. Often two people will have noticed and remembered quite diffferent things about what was said and, especially, what it meant. Following up after a session and working as a team can really help each of you making a personal commitment or goal to focus on until the next session. As a rule, couples who do this consistently need 30-50% fewer sessions.
Use a daily practice to stay in touch
Have a brief time (e.g. 15 mins) each day where you stop and connect with yourself and with each other. Check out what sort of state you are in personally and in relation to your partner. Your therapist may be able to give you a structure for this if you don’t have a way of doing it that works for you.
Do some “self- therapy” once a week or so
As well as reviewing therapy sessions, put aside an hour or two on a regular basis to discuss the state of relationship with the emphasis on your struggles with YOUR protective behaviours – what you’re doing that isn’t helping the relationship. One aim of therapy is for you to be able to have the knowledge and skills to be your own therapist. The sooner you start practicing, the faster you will be good at it.
Taken together, all these factors will make sure you are getting the most out of your sessions with us.