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  • Holly Sullivan

What Happens In Couples Therapy?

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

couple embracing

Are you considering couples therapy? Perhaps you want to learn how to improve your marriage or relationship, but wonder what to expect? Maybe you’re new to counseling, or just feel nervous about the process. You would like help from a professional, but you might have questions about therapy before moving forward.

While each therapist is different with their own unique personalities and ways of helping clients, there are therapy similarities and best practices. Here, we will discuss therapy basics, including what to expect during your first session and after.

First Session Jitters

The first session may feel nerve-wracking. After all, you and your partner are meeting the therapist for the first time and talking about issues. It is natural and normal to feel nervous. So take a breath and know that you are not alone in feeling this way.

During the first session, the therapist’s job is to get to know you and your partner by asking questions. He or she will want to know what’s bringing you in and where you are getting stuck in your relationship. The therapist may want to know what triggers issues between you and your partner, and what your arguments look like. The therapist will ask about your goals for counseling–what would you each like to work on and change?

Before a therapist can help you and your significant other, he or she must perform a proper assessment to understand the problems and relationship dynamics. The formal assessment can extend beyond the first session and into two to three sessions. Sometimes, the therapist will meet with you both individually in order to better understand the presenting issues.

The first few sessions are a chance to see whether it’s a good, therapeutic fit. One of the biggest predictors of therapeutic success is based on whether you have a solid relationship with the therapist, one where you feel rapport and empathy. Without this, therapeutic progress is affected, so it’s important to choose the right fit.

Let’s Make a Plan

After a proper assessment, the therapist collaboratively develops a treatment plan with you and your partner. The plan provides focus and direction, ensuring that all of you are working toward agreed-upon goals. The plan includes a timeline of when goals will be reviewed and includes treatment frequency. Usually, therapy occurs every one to two weeks for optimal therapeutic progress.

What’s Next?

Next, you and your therapist will start addressing issues. Depending on the type of therapy used, problems can be addressed in different ways. For example, some therapies focus on giving practical tools, whereas others are more process-oriented, for example, focusing on how you and your partner argue, rather than why. Regardless of the therapy type, you should feel like the therapist has a solid grasp of the important issues to you and has expertise with helping relationships. Generally, you should feel like the therapist is unbiased and doesn’t take sides between you and your partner.

At times, making progress in therapy can be slow or frustrating–it’s important to be able to talk about these feelings during the counseling process. If you feel like you’re getting stuck in therapy, you should feel comfortable to bring this up and talk about what’s getting in the way, or discuss expectations.

Do We Just Talk?

Couples therapy involves much more than just talking about issues. In therapy, a relationship expert helps you and your partner explore issues and have deeper, more vulnerable conversations with each other. The therapist is your guide to figuring out how to create corrective emotional experiences. Your therapist helps to provide structure and go beyond “just talk.” A trained, relationship professional helps you to successfully create a happier union.

While couples therapy may feel difficult to initiate, therapy with a relationship expert can be invaluable. A skilled couples counselor can help your relationship move from distress to recovery. All couples want to feel secure and connected with each other—therapy can help you learn how to better your relationship.

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