Have you ever suggested that you and your partner get couples counseling to work on your relationship, when really you wanted to come in to have the therapist tell your partner a thing or two? If so, you’re not alone. It’s tempting to think that having your partner do all the changing will solve your relationship problems, when really, creating meaningful change comes from each partner addressing their own part. That means that having a self-focus in couples therapy will give you the power to make positive changes instead of waiting for your partner to act. And if your partner does the same, you’ll be off to a dynamite start.
Another part of getting the most from couples therapy is learning to be a world class listener—and I don’t mean to the therapist! I mean learning to get curious about what your partner has to say. You may think you already know everything there is to know about your partner, but when you learn to slow down and really listen instead of rehearsing your next snappy comeback, you may hear some new things that may surprise you.
A willingness to learn new skills is another way to get the most from couples therapy. Remember what I said about listening? Okay, here comes the skills—self-regulation—that’s huge when it comes to listening. Our natural tendency is to say, “Ya, but,” before our partner gets a chance to finish his or her sentence. You were late to my birthday party and…”Ya, but!” You weren’t there when I reached for you and I felt…”Ya, but!” It’s hard to think of quieting ourselves down when we hear our partner express their pain. It’s natural to want to defend ourselves; however, when we learn to settle down and master our emotions, we allow our partner to clear away hurt feelings, just by our calm, attentive presence.
If all this sounds like it may require some stretching and growing , you’re right! And it is the stretching and growing that can revitalize your marriage or love relationship. It is in this learning that new feelings, new behaviors and a new sense of closeness can develop. Will it require some effort? Yes! Did I say that like it is a bad thing? It’s good effort. Isn’t that better than resentfully watching the years pass away with the same old same old?
If it sounds like all this is risky business, just know that that is where your couples therapist comes in. She or he is there to guide you into, what can be for some, new territories. And you don’t have to know how to execute these skills when you enter therapy. If you bring a self-focus and a willingness to listen and learn, you will be well on your way to getting the most you can from couples therapy.