So you and your partner have decided that you want to get some relationship help. Maybe you’ve been having issues with communication, intimacy or trust. Here are 5 ways to get the best out of your couples therapy experience.
1. Shift your Focus
Often the focus when starting couples therapy is on all the ways your partner needs work. The focus in couples therapy should not be the relationship or your partner; It’s you. That might sound strange, as the obvious assumption is that if you are coming to counselling to fix the relationship then the focus should be on the relationship. Right? Wrong. Many couples come with a list of ways that their partners should change and what their partners are doing wrong. They believe, “if only they could stop doing this then things would change”. Many couples focus on the therapist and how the therapist can “fix” the relationship. Shift the focus from your partner and therapist to fix the problem and first look at what kind of partner you are. The first question to ask yourself is “what kind of partner am I and what changes can I make to make this better?”
2. You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling
With many relationships that are struggling, the first thing to go is the physical intimacy and connection. Touch plays a crucial role in enhancing love. Couples in which physical affection is a significant part feel more satisfied in the relationship. Why is this? Touch, say Gallace and Spence, is the first sense we acquire and the secret weapon in many a successful relationship. Further research shows that communication and conflict resolution is easier with more physical affection—conflicts are resolved more easily with increased amounts of hugging, cuddling/holding, and kissing on the lips. So, increase the connection in your relationship. Give your partner a backrub, hug, cuddle. It might seems awkward at first, especially if you aren’t feeling so loving towards your partner, but it will help to bring back that loving feeling and create the feeling of safety that allows you to be vulnerable with your partner in your therapy sessions.
3. What we Focus on will Persist
Your partner isn’t perfect. They have done things in the relationship to hurt and disappoint you. That is likely why you both have ended up at couples therapy. It is not easy, but try to let go of judgmental, hostile, despairing thoughts. What we focus on persists. What we give our energy to expands. So if we focus on the wrongs and negative, negative feelings will persist. Try instead to focus on all that is going right. Show gratitude and acceptance.
“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, you're right.” -Henry Ford.
4. It takes work
You didn’t wake up knowing how to drive—it took practice. Anything that we do and do well takes work. Why do we then think that relationships don’t require work? Our society has socialized us with the notion that an intimate relationship should be easy, effortless and everlasting. Russ Harris (2009) author of “ACT with Love” argues that relationships aren’t easy. They require communication, negotiation, compromise, and a lot of acceptance of differences. As long as you expect your partner to think and feel and act like you, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Social media mediums such as Instagram and Facebook have likely enhanced this misconception. It may seem that every couple you know is lovingly staring into each others eye in front of a beautiful sunset, on some beach somewhere. “What is wrong with us, why don’t we have that?” Sound familiar?
5. Trust the Process
Therapy can stir up many emotions, hurts, feelings. Undoubtedly many couples have been holding onto these issues for a long time and have never discussed them. On the other hand, many couples have been talking about the issues and expect that the issues will be fixed in therapy. One thing to know is that some issues are solvable and some are perpetual; which means that they will never be fixed. That doesn’t mean that the relationship is doomed. It may likely feel worse, before it feels better. For example, like a new exercise program. Your body will ache and hurt when you first get started and you may ask yourself, “why am I doing this, I don’t feel any better.” Remember that you are learning new skills and tools that are new and unfamiliar. Stick with it and trust the process. There is a stronger couple at the end of that tunnel.