When couples seek counseling, they are looking to improve their relationship in some way or form. It's important to be open and honest when discussing the challenges you and your partner face in your relationship. The therapist will want to know the main problems you are experiencing and what causes most of your stress within the relationship. This could include parenting conflicts, intimacy issues, communication problems, differences in goals, and more.
By starting your first session, you and your partner will delve into the problems you encounter in your relationship. Your therapist will focus on this and the history of these issues to better understand how these major issues affect the relationship. It's crucial to the process because once everyone (you, your partner and the therapist) is in agreement, you can collaborate to improve these relationship difficulties. Partners should have a clear understanding of what is expected of them and what they can expect from each other.
In couples therapy, you may be able to more clearly communicate and define needs and limits in terms of money, intimacy, or other facets of life. Mary Kay Cocharo, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, often asks the couple to imagine what their relationship would ideally be like if the therapy were successful. You may realize that couples therapy is working if you enjoy your relationship, your partner, and your life in general more than before you started the process. Couples can also focus on managing reactivity and communicating better, specifically during conflict.
A small study conducted in 2002 revealed that 73% of people reported having stable or improved levels of communication skills after undergoing couples therapy, and another 66% reported that their partners had stable or improved levels of communication. Cocharo says that couples sometimes go to therapy when they have already decided that they want to end their marriage, but they need help to cope with the process and minimize the impact on their children. Despite this, wondering what happens in marriage therapy is normal if you and your spouse are considering couples therapy. John Gottman, an acclaimed therapist and couples researcher, has found that blocking or closing a relationship and refusing to relate to a partner can predict divorce with an accuracy of approximately 93%. While an individual therapist will align with you as an individual, a couples therapist won't always align with you.
It's important to remember that individual sessions are intended to be a safe space for you and your partner to discuss in more detail and be vulnerable about your expectations regarding therapy and the relationship. Knowing ahead of time what to expect from marriage therapy can sometimes help ease any anxiety, hesitation, or fear you may have about going. Ultimately, counseling can reveal to both members of the couple that the relationship is irreconcilable and, in some cases, that's a good thing. Couples counseling can help improve communication skills between partners as well as provide insight into how best to manage reactivity during conflict.