Couples counseling can significantly improve communication, emotional regulation, and strengthen emotional bonds. This process isn’t always easy. However, it can be made a little easier when both partners go in feeling ready and open.
Just like our bodies need to be warmed up before we go for a run, you and your partner should do a little preparation before you start counseling.
What you can do to prepare yourself for couples counseling:
-Be ready with an open mind
-Write down issues you want to discuss
-Write down your goals
-Take it seriously and create space in your schedule for it
Let's talk a little bit more about how to prepare and why it's so important.
Why You Should Prepare For Couples Therapy
You and your partner are participants in therapy, not observers. And this does require some preparation ahead of the first session. When you are prepared for counseling, it can be far more productive than if you go into it blind.
When you align your headspace with where it needs to be during counseling, you can find your words much easier. Take some time to think about why you’re there and what you want to accomplish, and practice what you want to say.
During couples counseling, you’ll likely discuss difficult events and emotions. While they may cause discomfort no matter how they’re approached, it’s even harder when you don’t open yourself to discussing them.
When these heavy topics shock your system, you can wind up feeling depressed, anxious, and even resentful of your partner, therapist, and the whole process.
To learn more about the negative effects of being unprepared for discussing difficult topics, read this article about trauma dumping.
What You Should Do to Prepare for Couples Counseling
After the first session, your counselor may give you more specific instructions about what you and your partner need to do before you return. However, the following steps will help the counselor create a plan, and you can start to improve your relationship.
Be Ready With an Open Mind
Some people are apprehensive about therapy, and especially couples therapy. They think the therapist will just take their partner's side and tell them how terrible they are.
The truth is that while there will be hard conversations about actions and consequences, couples counseling is collaborative.
Remember the phrase: “It’s not you vs me, it’s us vs the problem.” You’re there to fix the relationship dynamic, not defend yourself. Keep your mind and heart open to listen to what your partner and counselor have to say, and what you can do to make your relationship stronger.
You’ll Have to Open Up
You may end up having to discuss personal things that you normally wouldn’t feel comfortable telling someone you don’t know. Always remember that the counselor is there to help facilitate productive conversations, not judge, mock, or gossip about you.
Therapy in all forms is meant to be a safe space. If you need to voice things that you haven’t felt comfortable saying before, couples counseling is the place to do it. This may take time; it’s ok if it takes you a few sessions to open up.
When you prepare yourself for counseling, consider your honest thoughts and feelings. Even if you don’t say those for a few sessions, you need to be able to access them when you feel safe to do so.
Write Down the Issues You Want to Discuss
Making a list of the things you want to discuss during counseling helps you organize your thoughts and feelings about the relationship and its issues. It allows you to take your time, make some edits, and notice some patterns you hadn’t thought about before.
Not only that, but it’s not uncommon to freeze or clam up once you get to the therapy office. It happens to most people. Write down what you’d like to discuss so you don’t forget anything, and so everyone understands why you think you’re there.
This is not to list out accusations against your partner. This is so you can identify opportunities for improvement in the relationship.
Work on this both with your partner and independently. You may find that what issues line up with both partners and what doesn’t will likely be in itself something you want to discuss in counseling.
Write Down Your Goals
Writing down your goals for the relationship helps you organize your thoughts and feelings, the same way writing down the issues that you want to talk about does. Again, you can do this both with your partner and on your own.
These goals can be a direct counter of your list of issues, but they don’t have to be. If it helps, start with more abstract goals, then get more specific. Remember, you don’t have to do this completely on your own. Bring this list to the counseling session and your therapist will guide your and your partner.
Take It Seriously
Couples counseling may be the best thing you can do for your relationship. However, you need to know that counseling is a commitment, and change takes time.
When you’re reflecting and preparing, keep in mind that your relationship won’t be fixed in just the few hours a week that you’re actively in a session. The work you do in session is meant to carry into your everyday life, so you need to prioritize it.
Clear your schedule to make sure you have time after to decompress and reflect. You both need to make time for this and do the homework the counselor gives you.
Other Ways to Get the Most Out of Couples Counseling
As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Just attending therapy with your partner won’t improve your relationship—you have to make the conscious effort to apply what you’ve learned.
Odds are, if you’ve done the preparation, you're in a fairly good space to do the work to get the most out of couples counseling.
Make Sure Your Therapist is a Good Fit For Both Of You
Couples therapy is for everyone in the relationship. You should both feel comfortable with your counselor. Agreeing on a couples’ counselor needs to be a “two yeses, one no” situation.
Any open mindedness that one or both of you fostered ahead of therapy can be vanquished as soon as you don’t feel safe. If one of you feels the counselor isn’t a good fit, it’s time to search for another.
Progress takes time. It’ll take more than a session or two to reach your goals.
Do your homework, listen to each other and your counselor, and keep learning and growing over time. Your circumstances can change, and so can your goals. Roll with the punches, and continue to open your mind to every thought and feeling that may arise over time.
Couples counseling may be you and me vs. the problem, but sometimes you need a little help too. Individual counseling is a great way to get your head on straight before or during couples counseling. Think of it like your workout outside of practice time. It’ll only make the team stronger.
Call Inner Balance and Ask About Couples Counseling
When you put in the work, the sky's the limit for change. Preparation ahead of couples counseling makes therapy more effective, and can help improve communication and understanding outside of counseling sessions.
At Inner Balance, we use the golden standard methods of emotion-focused therapy and the Gottman Method for couples counseling. Our bonds and interactions with our partners are some of the most important and impactful attachments. You need to cultivate and care for these bonds throughout your relationship.