How To Prepare Yourself for Couples Counseling
We reach out to counseling when we are in distress caused by problems we no longer can find solutions to. I frequently hear my clients stating that coming to counseling means admitting their failure to overcome problems on their own. This is one of the most common reasons couples postpone reaching out for help until it is too late.
Unfortunately, when we enter a long-term relationship, no one hands us a manual with instructions to follow when facing challenges. We grow and learn the most from relationships, and their importance in our life is understated. Therefore, anytime we are facing stress within the relationship, other areas in our life are affected as well. Research shows that having fulfilling relationships has a positive impact on our physical and emotional health, our ability to cope and manage stress, our emotional and physical pain, and increases our life expectancy.
In the experience gained through academic endeavors, as well as clinical work, I learned that it is much easier to address problems when they first appear, then wait until the emotional connection is broken and resentment between partners creeps in. I recommend that couples reach out for help when the thought of needing counseling first enters their mind, and not wait one to two years—or even longer. Waiting too long usually means the problems witll get worse, not better. One of my clients stated this concept the best by saying: “It is much easier to fix two broken pieces than to deal with 12 broken pieces at once.”
We live in a society that frequently asks us to show self-reliance, independence, and efficiency. In our personal affairs, this translates to: do not show weakness, solve the problems on your own, and don’t let others know what is happening behind closed doors.
Are we using the same approach when we suffer from a heart condition or diabetes? Do we read a book and prescribe ourselves blood pressure medication, perform heart surgery, or decide what diabetic medication works best and the type of insulin we should self-administer? No, we trust a doctor to help us when our body signals that we are not well. Unfortunately, we don’t do the same when our heart, mind, and relationships are desperately telling us that something no longer works.
It is normal to feel uncomfortable discussing personal problems with a stranger, and to open up about aspects of your relationship that are private and painful. However, proper preperation for the counseling process will improve your ability to achieve a successful outcome.
If you are interested in couples counseling, the following tips will help you prepare for the experience and help you navigate through the early challenges.
1). Identifying your fears and misconceptions about the counseling process itself. What do you worry will go wrong? What do you expect the experience to be like? What is your previous experience with counseling, and if this is your first time, what fears you might have? In my clinical work I reinforce and welcome questions from my clients about counseling areas they need more information on and to talk to me about their fears. I also welcome feedback to know if my clients are receiving what they need from the counseling experience.
2). Identify what you want to accomplish in counseling. Deciding the direction you want to take when working on your relationship will streamline the process. We don’t operate in a vacuum. Therefore, problems do not develop only due to one partner’s fault, but rather as a response to the couple/relationship dynamic. Couple counseling does not focus on “fixing” you or your partner. Instead, it reinforces and improves aspects which are already strong and healthy.
Therefore, counseling is not about finding the “guilty” or “at fault” person, but rather, identifies what works in the relationship and improve aspects that currently are hindering the quality of your interaction with your loved one.
One major hindrance that I encounter when working with couples is the lack of transparency between partners regarding their goals for seeking out counseling. Some examples I can provide are:
- wanting to “fix” the other partner without being open to working on one’s self, or
- covertly seeking separation and hoping the other partner/spouse will “get” the message in counseling.
Both scenarios are a painful and emotionally draining experience that leaves the unaware partner blindsided and overwhelmed with confusion, anxiety, and anguish, while the disconnected partner feels angry and self-righteous.
3). Become aware of your expectations for both yourself and your partner, and the relationship. This step is important because it allows the relationship to improve through a team approach leading to fast and measurable results. Try to leave the power struggle, score keeping, and blaming attitude outside the counseling office since they are counterproductive patterns that keep the relationship stuck and you and your partner feeling miserable, hopeless, and helpless.
It is common in my practice to encounter couples that don’t know what they want from their spouse or partner, and struggle to identify, verbalize or act on their expectations. A relationship fails to work and is in danger when one or both partners stop having expectations from one another. Although, a lot of clients believe that having expectations can lead to disappointment, it actually creates an accountability system for the spouses/partners and a means to measure the ability to give-and-take, compromise, and negotiate (elements essentials in a relationship).
4). See the relationship as an entity. In couple counseling, the client is the relationship and not each spouse/partner individually. Although individual problems can and will affect a relationship, the goal is:
- to diagnose the problem,
- identify the contributing and maintaining factors, and
- develop and implement a recovery plan.
In relationships where the emotional disconnect is high, the spouses/partners have a hard time stepping outside themselves to see the relationship as a result of their interactions. Re-establishing a “team approach” when dealing with relationship issues helps the partners become a unit and collaborate when implementing changes.
Have Questions? I like to be easily accessible for everyone and I can be reached by telephone 7 days a week until 7 pm at 918 403-8873 unless I am with a client or in a meeting. Please leave a message and I will return your phone call in a timely manner. You can also Text me or send me an Email, both of which I reply to as quickly as possible.