What Can I Expect From Couple’s Therapy?

What to expect from couples therapy

There are still many people who perceive therapy/counseling in a negative way. Asking for help, particularly with your marriage, can feel like failure to some.  Although men are becoming more open to marital therapy, it is more often than not the wife who seeks out help. We used to joke about men who won’t stop and ask for directions or admit they are lost. The kernel of truth in that observation is that many men find it difficult to admit the need for and seek out help.

Successful couple’s therapy requires investment from both partners

Couple’s therapy is no different than many things in life in that you get out of it what you put in.  A couple should expect a therapist to explore each partner’s commitment to the marriage and to the therapeutic process. This means that neither partner should use leaving the marriage as a threat or weapon. There is little to no opportunity to safely reconnect if one partner fears the possibility of being abandoned.

A couple should expect that the therapist will require personal responsibility. Often couples seeking help have come to view their partner as the problem and the solution.  Couple’s therapy is not a negotiation.  “If you do this, then I will do that.”  Each partner will be encouraged to assume responsibility for their own attitudes, feelings, thoughts, opinions etc.  Each partner must take back their personal power for effecting change in the relationship by being proactive in their behavior rather than reactive.

A couple in therapy will be shown the need for forgiveness

Anger and bitterness can only be removed through the process of forgiveness.  Holding onto anger and bitterness provides a false sense of protection and security against new wounds.  In reality that only leads to isolation, mistrust and the lost opportunity for meaningful connection. Forgiveness is essential for removing bad filters as well.  Couples develop dirty filters that distort their ability to communicate effectively. These filters develop as a result of each partner wounding the other over the course of their relationship.  Partners begin to hear something very different than what the speaker intended.

Dysfunctional interaction

Couples get the opportunity to identify dysfunctional style of interaction

There is a pursuer and a withdrawal in each relationship.  One partner often will demand or criticize while the other will withdraw or become defensive.  Couples will be given healthier ways of asking for what they want and need.

Couples in therapy can expect to have certain “ground rules” put in place by the therapist. Couples will be encouraged to stay away from communication killers such as:

  • Invalidation
  • Escalation
  • Defensiveness and
  • Negatively interpreting their partner’s communication.  

A therapist is not a judge 

He/she is not there to determine who was right or wrong, what the facts are nor whose opinion matters most.  A therapist is there to help identify what each partner is really feeling, needing and how that can be effectively and safely expressed.  This will require that each person uses “I feel” statements versus “you did or did not do” statements.

Each couple is unique and so is their relationship. Thus, each couple’s experience in therapy will be unique as well. However, these are some of the themes or processes that a couple can typically expect to be a part of therapy.

Sean R Sears
Counselor, MS, OMC
Sean is a member of the team of counselors at New Leaf Counseling Center in Kansas City, MO. Sean has been working with couples and families for over 20 years. He received his B.S. in Administration of Justice with an emphasis on juveniles/families from Wichita State University. He has a Master’s in Guidance and Counseling from Missouri State University. In addition, Sean has been an ordained minister for 13 years and is a certified Prepare/Enrich marital facilitator. He has worked with adolescents, couples and families while serving as the Director of a Residential Treatment Program, Director of a Leadership Training Program and as the head of Pastoral Care at a large church. He has provided pre-marital counseling and married a number of couples over the last several years. His greatest passion lies in helping couples and families experience restored relationships and healing.

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