What can you do to improve the chances that couples therapy is worth the time and money you put into it? In other words, what makes marriage counseling work? Of course you need the help of a skilled marriage therapist, but there are several things you can do to help make your marriage counseling a success.
1. Have more goals for yourself than for your partner.
Of course you want your partner to change or you wouldn't need therapy, but working on yourself in the presence of your partner is probably the most effective way to have a positive impact on your relationship. Focusing exclusively on what your partner needs to change simply doesn't work. Ultimately, you don't get what you want.
And what is it that you want? Recalling your early expectations from the beginning of your relationship will help you visualize what it is you want — your ideal picture of the relationship. How do you behave as a partner in that perfect world? What are your characteristics? Looking now at the present, your real-life situation, what are your actual attitudes and behaviors? What hinders you from being that better person? Where are your weak points? When you're stressed, do you try to control, nag, or whine? Do you avoid and withdraw? The answers to these questions will make up your goals in therapy.
Don’t worry, a good marriage counselor will make sure that each of you is doing work, not just you!
2. Put yourself out there.
This tip actually might save you months and months of therapy time: try to get to the feelings behind the feelings. Often what we feel on an obvious level in a relationship is anger, annoyance, resentment, and judgment. Try to dig deeper and get in touch with what triggered those thoughts and feelings. Did you have an open heart and became disappointed? Do you feel helpless, embarrassed, or hopeless? Are you worried about being controlled? Are you afraid to trust because of past hurt?
Any resistence you feel toward cooperating could be an indication that you've been avoiding certain thoughts and feelings. Maybe there is some grudge or resentment you've never been able to admit to yourself, let alone express openly. Once you get the courage to be more vulnerable about what's beneath in front of your partner, it will likely create empathy and compassion in them. Your therapist will help make sure that the session is a safe space to do this.
3. Put in the time.
Marriage therapy can be time-intensive. The higher your level of conflict, the more regularly you may need to come to therapy. Couples therapy is seldom a quick fix. However, what happens in between the sessions may be as or even more important. You both will have to make some time to be with each other without distraction, and create a reliable space in your life for each other that you or your partner don't have to beg for. But it's quality, not quantity that counts.
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