Know This Before Starting Couples Therapy

If you’re going through some kind of emotional trouble with a spouse or lover and the the possibility of couples or marital therapy comes up, you’ll need to know a few things about treating your love relationship before you start the treatment.

First and foremost, you should come out of your first couples (or marital) therapy feeling good about your choice of therapist and looking forward to the next session. If not, find another therapist. It’s often a good idea to interview a couple of therapists before you pick one.

It’s too important not to care. If it doesn’t work out, you and/or your lover might get turned off to treatment, closing a door to the possibility of guided reconciliation in your relationship. So be sure you have a little ‘chemistry’ with the therapist you both settle on.

If your lover is resistant, meaning he or she doesn’t like the idea of sitting with a third person and talking openly about his or her relationship, you still have another option. As a general rule of ‘therapeutic thumb,’ if one person changes in a love relationship, changes have to occur in the relationship. So if your lover declines, you could go into individual treatment and spend a lot of time talking about the relationship at least at the beginning.

Remember, making changes in yourself will inevitably make changes in your love relationship. Sometimes what happens is, one person changes through therapy and the other person, who initially said no, says yes after seeing some results.

If one of you is seeing a psychotherapist individually who does couples therapy in his or her practice, it’s generally not a good idea to start doing couples treatment with your individual therapist when your lover shows an interest in couples treatment. Issues of confidentiality and how comfortable your lover is going to be with your individual therapist can make this harder than it needs to be especially at the beginning.

I’ll usually refer my patient and his or her lover to another couple’s therapist. In some instances, the lover is interested in couples treatment with me because of a hidden motivation to ‘penetrate’ the confidentiality or interfere with the patient’s individual therapy out of fear or worry.

In couples therapy it is very important for the therapist to have a good rapport with ‘both’ persons in the relationship. This can be very difficult to do given the antagonism and and struggles that are usually present especially at the beginning of the therapy. This is difficult but essential given the need for mutual motivation to keep the couples treatment alive.

Being able to accomplish this is an indication of the therapists’s skill. Another important prohibition involves the taboo on private conversations with one or the other member of the relationship while couples therapy is ongoing to complain or ‘report’ on a partner. Trust is another essential and can be easily lost when ‘secrets’ start involving the therapist.

Also, as with any kind of psychotherapy, expect to have days when you don’t feel like going. This resistance usually means you are avoiding something in yourself or your relationship that needs to be talked about. If you go to your session when you really don’t feel like going, you will usually be surprised at how much talking you’ll do when you get there. This happens frequently enough to be worth the try, what do you have to lose?

Lastly, couples and marital therapy requires specific skills. It’s not something you can do just because you have a license to practice psychotherapy. It requires specialized training and/or supervised experience over time. You as a consumer should give yourself the right to ask questions about a doctor’s or therapist’s credentials (license), training, and treatment experience.

All three of these areas will tell you a lot about a therapist ability to help you. If you ask a therapist for this information and he or she says (or acts) in so many words, mind your own business, find another therapist.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. T. Jordan



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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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