When a couple decides to consult a professional to try to solve their relationship problems, it is usually as a last-ditch attempt before separating or filing for divorce. Often times, one person in the couple wants a magic solution or wants a therapist to tell them what to do. This is not how good couples therapy works. In good couples therapy, the majority of the work is done by the couple. And this is good (!) news because by taking ownership of your therapeutic process, you avoid becoming dependent on your therapist to maintain a healthy relationship for you in the long run. The role of your therapist should be to frame and mediate the process and to help you develop the tools to make your relationship successful.
One of the first things that couples work on together is communication. This is often because by the time couples seek counseling, the relationship has reached a state in which communication has completely broken down. Power struggles, guilt, egocentricity, and aggressions of all kinds, are common issues that couples cite in the beginning stages of therapy. Sometimes, coexistence has become unbearable and the relationship has descended into a passive-aggressive dynamic of one-upsmanship and leaves the couple feeling like everything that joined them together has evaporated, that they don’t know each other anymore, don’t know how to talk to each other, and are ready to give up on what now seems like a really bad match. A good couples therapist will provide a space that is emotionally and physically safe for the couple to begin to process these issues.
In order to build the skills that will help you move to a better place in your relationship, it is essential that both parties are committed to being sincere, emotionally available, and willing to discuss the relationship dynamic. Each person can expect to practice hearing and being heard. This process in itself can become the focus of multiple sessions because it requires emotional and mental energy, which can be difficult after a lengthy period of tension in the relationship.
As the course of therapy continues, couples work on restoring the lost dialogue between them, creating new objectives for the future of the relationship, and implementing new bonding experiences to strengthen their foundation. The therapy process as a whole does not have a set timeframe. It all depends on the functionality of each partner in therapy and how each partner responds to the process. I often caution my clients against comparing their experiences with those of other couples because every couple’s process will be unique. Therefore, it is a good idea to focus on the quality of the sessions rather than the quantity when assessing the effectiveness of your therapy.