There are a few commonly asked questions that you might also have when thinking about finding a therapist to help you with your relationship:
- What are the therapist’s qualifications?
- How long has the therapist been doing therapy?
- What is the therapist’s strategy for assisting us with our relationship concerns?
While these are important questions to get answers to, there is another question that is equally important: What should a couple bring to therapy to improve the chances of relationship success?
In our experience, there are essential elements that couples should bring which increase the likelihood that treatment will be successful. Here are five of them:
Expediency – During the normal course of relationship development, conflict naturally occurs. If you have been dealing with conflict by avoiding it or in a way that doesn’t resolve the conflict satisfactorily for both of you, it is likely that hurt feelings can lead to resentments. Expediency suggests that you seek help before resentments begin to erode your foundation of love and respect. Many couples wait to seek help until their love and respect for each other is so frail that the expected ups and downs of the treatment process casts shadows on an already shaky foundation. Seek help while you still feel secure in the foundation of love and respect that you share and that foundation will help you through the hard work of learning how to address conflict together.
An Open Mind – When you seek help from a professional, understand that your therapist is likely to think about problems in a different way than you’ve been seeing them. Your therapist will ask you to try new things, ask you to look at your problems from a different perspective and request that you consider connections between ideas and/or events in your life that may be new to you. At our offices, we invite you to communicate in a new way. Bringing an open mind, willing to consider new possibilities, will only support your process toward a more successful relationship.
Empathy– Related to an open mind, you must bring empathy to therapy. Many couples arrive at therapy with the mistaken belief that therapy is about seeing who is right and who is wrong when it comes to resolving conflicts. To the contrary, therapy is focused on providing an emotionally corrective experience while helping you understand each other in a way that allows you to work through conflict together, not from opposite sides of the fence! Empathy – the ability to identify with and understand your partner’s feelings – will help you see conflict as an opportunity to grow together instead of something that will create distance between you.
Flexibility – Successful couples therapy requires you to learn new skills and break old habits. This means you must be willing to make mistakes. It also means that you need to be flexible enough to forgive yourself and your partner for not being perfect in your practice of replacing what isn’t working with what will. The process of change isn’t linear. That is, there will be ups and downs. One week, you’ll feel like you made progress together, another week you may feel like things aren’t improving. This is normal. Remember to ask your therapist for feedback about how they see your progress. A competent therapist should be able to outline your progress by describing your development over the course of treatment in a manner that is reassuring and that you can see. Remaining flexible with how you regulate your emotions as you and your partner make change is essential to tolerating the emotional stresses of working on your relationship.
Vulnerability – After the butterflies in your stomach that landed there when your relationship was new go away, remaining vulnerable isn’t as fun. Each of us has a tendency to protect ourselves when we think we could get hurt. If you and your partner haven’t figured out how to overcome conflict as a team, there is a clear possibility that you have reverted to protecting yourselves so that you don’t get hurt when conflict arises. This is natural and very common. It’s also the opposite of what’s needed to keep you joined in your efforts to understand each other more deeply while you use conflict as a tool for growth. To make therapy successful, you and your partner should be willing to be vulnerable to each other in ways that the therapist invites. It is okay to say you aren’t ready to talk about something. Sometimes, taking it slow can be good when it comes to opening up in treatment. Your therapist should have the tools to be sensitive to your need to slow down when it comes to opening yourself up. When more safety is required as a precursor to vulnerability, your therapist should have the skills to help you build safety. Eventually, however, developing a safe emotional environment within your relationship requires that you open yourselves to each other and let each other in. Vulnerability is an essential aspect of healthy love and true intimacy.