Have a Q&A with a couples counselor before your session even starts.
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Is couples therapy the right thing for us?
If you were asking me that question, I'd turn it around and ask you, "what's going on in your life right now that prompted you to call me? You are investigating couples counseling so there must be something that you're concerned about in your relationship." If you have a concern and you've been unable to effectively work it out without the help of a couples counselor, then yes, you are the kind of people who can benefit from couples counseling.
Do people really come to couples therapy for help?
Yes they do! Our relationships are probably the most important thing in our lives. Many couples come to couples therapy with the hope that therapy can help fix a relationship that's gone wrong. Even people who come to couples therapy with their mind already made up about ending the relationship, are still asking for help: either to find out how to proceed or if their conclusion is the right conclusion.
Does couples therapy work? What kind of a success rate do you have in helping other couples?
Yes, couples therapy does work! But first we have to define what "success" is in couples therapy. When a couple comes to me hoping to get some help with their relationship, I ask them what they want as an outcome. If neither of them are ambivalent about wanting to fix the relationship, then that becomes the benchmark for success. And if you both want that and are both able to grow and change in the relationship, then we will be successful. Some couples are unsure of what outcome they want or one wants to fix it and the other wants to end it. I tell them about the Imago Theory of Relationship:
On an unconscious level, we are attracted to another person because they represent the perfect "other" that can help us create the perfect relationship situation with the goal of working through our relationship wounds (starting from early childhood until now). When the other person is also attracted back to you, then you have the perfect setup to learn, heal and grow while you are together. If you choose to leave this relationship before you've learned what you needed to learn and healed what you need to heal, you are doomed to repeat this same painful situation in the next relationship.
So it is in both of your best interests to work through your troubles in couples counseling. You may end up going your separate ways or you may end up staying together. Either way, you will be in a better place to create a loving and successful relationship and your time in couples therapy will be successful.
Can couples therapy fix my husband/wife?
The person who asks this question doesn't believe that he/she has any responsibility for the problems in the relationship. "This is all my partners fault. I'm innocent!" In any relationship, it takes two; two to make it work and two to break it. Granted, one of you may have a lot more responsibility for what went wrong, but both of you have some responsibility. So the quick answer to the question is no, I can't fix him or her. I can help each of you fix yourself and then guide the two of you towards a healthier relationship. The only people who "get fixed" are those who want to fix themselves.
How long will it take? How many sessions?
Somewhere between 1 and 1,000, but usually no more then a year. I've seen couples for one session and they've gone away happy with the answer they were looking for. Other couples I have seen for a year or slightly more before they find their way to a better place and stay there.
How the hell are you going to save us?
Other versions of this question include: Can we be helped? Do you think you can help us? What will become of the two of us? All of these questions show the hopelessness you can feel when not able to solve the problems in your relationship by yourselves. What I want to unequivocally say is this: it's not hopeless. Things can be made better! This is not a guarantee that couples counseling will save your relationship. That may or may not happen. But we can work together to make the situation better even if better ends up meaning apart. That would not be my first choice for the two of you, but sometimes that is the best outcome.
Do you meet with us individually?
I always try to meet with couples together, but there are situations that warrant separate meetings. My philosophy about couples therapy is that if you want a relationship to work you have to work together. So in that spirit, I always try to have both partners in the room at the same time. I'm trying to help you communicate more effectively, reduce conflict, eliminate historical patterns that affect your current life and help you two feel connected. That work is best done with both of you there. Reasons why I would want to meet with you separately include:
- one of you not feeling safe enough to speak your truth in front of your partner
- an inability for the two of you to refrain from yelling and fighting in the session
- a recent occurrence of domestic violence
- one or both of you are so demeaning to the other that a civilized conversation is not possible
I'd work with you individually with the goal of working with both of you at the same time.
What methods do I use in couples therapy?
I was trained as a couples counselor during a time when therapists were encouraged to become good therapists before adapting to whatever the newest fad in couples therapy happens to be. I get to know the two of you in the context of your relationship, ask open-ended questions so I can hear and understand both of you, and then look for the underlying emotional and psychological dimensions that are causing the problems between the two of you. You see conflict in relationships is rarely about the content of what you are fighting about. It's usually about the underlying feelings of anger, abandonment, loneliness, being misunderstood and things like that. If we can come to understand that level of your interactions, we can make positive change. I have also studied EFT, ACT, Imago and some of the Gottman's work. With all of these various tools in my "toolbox," I'm confident that I can find a way to help the two of you.
How long have you been doing this?
This article was originally published at Larry Cappel Your Denver Counseling . Reprinted with permission from the author.