How to Maximize the Value from your Couples Therapy Sessions
A common yet unproductive pattern in couple’s therapy is making the focus be whatever problem happens to be on someone’s mind at the moment. This is a reactive (and mostly ineffective) approach to working things through.
The second unproductive pattern is showing up and saying, “I don’t know what to talk about, do you?” While this blank slate approach may open some interesting doors, it is a hit or miss process.
The third common unproductive pattern is discussing whatever fight you are now in or whatever fight you had since the last meeting. Discussing these fights/arguments without a larger context of what you wish to learn from the experience is often an exercise in spinning your wheels.
Over time, repeating these patterns will lead to the plaintive question, “Are we getting anywhere?”
A more powerful approach to your couple’s therapy sessions is for each person to do the following before each session:
1. Reflect on your objectives for being in therapy.
2. Think about your next step that supports or relates to your larger objectives for the kind of relationship you wish to create, or the partner you aspire to become.
This reflection takes some effort. Yet few people would call an important meeting and then say, “Well, I don’t have anything to bring up, does anyone else have anything on their agenda?” Your preparation will pay high dividends.
Important Concepts for Couples Therapy and Relationships
The following ideas can help identify areas of focus in our work and/or stimulate discussion between you and your partner between meetings. If you periodically review this list, you will discover that your reflections and associations will change over time. So please revisit this list often, it will help you keep focus during our work.
Attitude is Key
When it comes to improving your relationship, your attitude toward change is more important that what action to take.
Identifying what to do and how to do it is often easy to identify. The bigger challenge is why you don’t do it.
How to think differently about a problem is often more effective than just trying to figure out what action to take.
Your partner is quite limited in his/her ability to respond to you.
You are quite limited in your ability to respond to your partner.
Accepting that is a huge step into maturity.
The definite possibility exists that you have some flawed assumptions about your partner’s motives. And that he/she has some flawed assumptions about yours. The problem is, most of the time we don’t want to believe those assumptions are flawed.
Focus on Changing Yourself Rather than Your Partner
Couples therapy works best if you have more goals for yourself than for your partner. I am at my best when I help you reach objectives you set for yourself.
Problems occur when reality departs sharply from our expectations, hopes, desires and concerns. It’s human nature to try and change one’s partner instead of adjusting our expectations. This aspect of human nature is what keeps therapists in business.
The hardest part of couples therapy is accepting you will need to improve your response to a problem (how you think about it, feel about it, or what to do about it). Very few people want to focus on improving their response. It’s more common to build a strong case for why the other should do the improving.
You can’t change your partner. Your partner can’t change you. You can change the patterns with your partner! You can influence each other, but that doesn’t mean you can change each other. Becoming a more effective partner is the most efficient way to change a relationship. You can change the patterns with your partner!
It’s easy to be considerate and loving to your partner when the vistas are magnificent, the sun is shining and breezes are gentle. But when it gets bone chilling cold, you’re hungry and tired, and your partner is whining and sniveling about how you got them into this mess, that’s when you get tested. Your leadership and your character get tested. You can join the finger pointing or become how you aspire to become.
Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn’t have to do it.
Fear lets you know you’re not prepared. If you view fear in that mode, it becomes a signal to prepare the best you can.
You can learn a lot about yourself by understanding what annoys you and how you handle it.
The more you believe your partner should be different, the less initiative you will take to change the patterns between you.