Couples counseling can be a life-transforming experience. It can lead you to the kind of happiness and satisfaction you may never have imagined in your relationship. It offers a unique opportunity to grow. Couples counseling provides a safe, productive environment for you learn how to be more forgiving, loving, patient, and understanding toward your mate.
Of course, different people see couples counseling in different ways. Some feel it’s powerfully enlightening and deeply connecting. Others look at it as something emotional and stressful, even downright upsetting.
One thing’s for sure – not every couple that enters counseling can save their marriage. Sometimes, love is truly gone from the relationship, resentment is simply too strong, or one of the partners doesn’t really want counseling in the first place.
However, if you both want to save your marriage, you have the option of taking advantage of the opportunities couples counseling offers.
But be aware. Finding a skilled, experienced counselor is important. You must do your part, however, to make the most of your sessions.
5 Ways You Can Make the Most of Couples Counseling
1. Maintain reasonable expectations
Those who expect their mate to make them happy and meet their needs are often also those that expect a marriage counselor to fix their marriage. But it’s not the job of the counselor to do so – it’s your job. You are responsible for creating lasting change. A counselor is there to educate and guide you, helping you to explore the aspects of a healthy relationship. You have to apply the knowledge you gain.
What happens between sessions is just as important, if not more so, than what happens during sessions. I frequently encounter couples who leave a session with either homework or newly acquired skills to practice. When they return for their next session, I hear excuse after excuse for why they did not apply the skills between sessions. They were too busy, they forgot, they had a fight, on and on and on.
Those couples, however, who practice new skills and make the relationship a priority see significant progress rather quickly. Sure, they still get caught up in old patterns, but they are able to recognize them and get back on track. They can use their counseling sessions to deepen their emotional connection rather than staying stuck on the surface.
2. Adopt the right attitude
It’s of the utmost importance to have the right attitude toward your partner and toward making changes. Couples who are having problems are often stuck in a negative perspective. They enter a session with a chip on their shoulder. Anything a partner says elicits a negative response. This happens because of past resentments and as well as emotional disconnection that has grown over time.
First off, be willing to shift into a positive perspective. Try to give your mate the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping to conclusions about their motives. Couples do a lot of mind-reading. Your assumptions are frequently flawed; so are theirs. For that reason, it’s paramount to stay curious about your partner. Ask them what they feel and think. (For more about this, see my previous blog at www.fayeslater.com/blo/2016/7/5/big-magic-in-relationships.) Second, you must be willing to acknowledge and take responsibility for your role in problems and make changes.
3. Focus on your own growth
One of the most effective way to see positive changes in your marriage is by working on yourself – not trying to fix your spouse! Imagine what you want your marriage to be like. Then, consider what behaviors you would have to display to make it that way. Become who you need to be to make your marriage better. This requires a lot of soul searching, especially if you hope to understand what currently holds you back. The more you believe that your mate needs to change, the less you will push to make changes in yourself.
James Clear (jamesclear.com) has written about how to use the Domino Effect to use one small change to create a chain reaction of good habits. You can apply this same concept to the changes in your own behavior and their effect on your partner's behavior. Kindness begets kindness. Empathy begets empathy. Appreciation begets appreciation. You get the picture. Be the kind of partner you want your partner to be.
4. Open up to uncover what lies beneath your feelings
It’s not enough to reveal obvious feelings, like anger, annoyance, judgment, or resentment. Work to find out what triggers those feelings, why you react the way you do in certain situations. Maybe you’re afraid to trust because you were hurt in the past. Or perhaps you’re worried about being controlled. Whatever it is, be courageous and vulnerable enough to help your partner understand your behavior. Deep, meaningful communication means speaking from the heart about what you truly think and feel.
It takes courage to make yourself vulnerable. When we open up to vulnerability, we're open to being hurt by our partner. The rewards, however, are worth the risk. Vulnerability brings intimacy. We create a safe harbor for each other.
5. Be patient
Couples counseling is a life-long investment that can reap tremendous returns. Problems that existed for many years won’t be magically fixed in a few sessions. Problems didn't develop overnight, and they won't go away overnight. Ingrained patterns of communication can be hard to change. You'll feel like you're going backwards sometimes. It might get worse before it gets better.
Above all, resist quitting or giving up just to avoid disappointment. Press on, even when things don’t move along as quickly as you hoped. Stick it out! It will be well worth the work.
Couples counseling is a wise investment in your future.
Do your part to make it pay off.