Couples Therapy: 6 Things to Know Before Your First Session
by Kristine Fellizar
Your significant other may give you all the feels, but every duo faces its fair share of challenges. Whether you keep having the same fight over and over again, or you can’t pinpoint what exactly is wrong with your relationship, getting outside help can get you from relationship rut to #couplegoals.
Although there’s definitely a lot to look forward to from couples therapy, keep in mind that it won’t necessarily be an easy process. Here are six things you should keep in mind as you prepare for your first session:
1. Both you and your partner need to be on board
This may seem obvious, but you both need to be committed to attending couples therapy in the first place.
“Quite often it is one partner who has suggested that the couple seek couples counseling, and the other partner is reluctant about beginning this process,” says Dr. Nicoletta Skoufalos, a psychologist in Midtown West, Manhattan. “It can sometimes be helpful to give the not-so-excited partner an opportunity to have some of their concerns or questions addressed prior to the session.”
One way to do this in a relaxed, confidential manner? Have both partners speak on the phone – separately! – with a prospective therapist, to address any concerns or misconceptions.
Then, on the day of the appointment, prioritize the appointment by making sure you both have your schedules cleared for the session. If you have a late-day or evening appointment, consider leaving the rest of the night free so you can emotionally rest and recharge afterwards.
2. It’s okay to be nervous about your first session
Many couples who go to counseling together are, understandably, anxious about their first appointment. After all, you may be opening up about certain challenges and intimate issues that you and your partner have only ever spoken about to each other. In some cases, you might be sharing things you’ve never even told your partner.
As Dr. Skoufalos notes, it’s completely normal – common, actually – to feel anxious about embarking on this new experience. Don’t worry if one (or both) of you is still hesitant on the day of. “Unknowns make many people anxious. It can be helpful to simply be patient and stay hopeful that after both partners meet the therapist, some of the anxieties about going to couples counseling will be put at ease.”
And remember: The last thing your therapist is going to do is judge you. They’re there to help you manage and understand your emotions in a way that can help you both move forward.
3. Decide what – and whether – you want to tell your friends
Having different relationships is crucial for our overall health. We can’t all expect our partner to be our lover, our BFF, our personal chef, and our workout buddy. Those additional roles what friends are for.
What friends aren’t for? Making you feel embarrassed about going to couples therapy.
Whether or not you tell your friends is totally your call – but when it comes to couples counseling, remember that you’re not obligated to anyone but yourself and your partner.
4. Have clear goals in mind for the journey
“A very important question to ask yourself before attending couples counseling is, ‘Do I want to go because I want to change my partner?’” says Dr. Skoufalos.
If the answer to this is yes, then, unfortunately, it might be time for a shift in perspective.
“Couples counseling is about how the partners can change together as a couple and not about fixing flaws in each other,” says Dr. Skoufalos. She suggests asking questions like:
How do we want to grow as a couple?
Do we need to work on our conflict style?
Could we improve the quality or frequency of our intimacy?
Are we abusive to each other?
Do we have shared goals, and what are our goals as a couple?
Do we need to work on listening to and validating each other?
Before you even attend your first session, it’s a good idea to talk to your partner about their goals for therapy as well. If you can, come up with one shared goal together.
5. Don’t be surprised if your couples therapist asks about your individual history
You’re in couples therapy, so it makes sense to limit the discussion around issues surrounding just you and your partner, right?
Actually, not necessarily.
Getting a sense of your family history is important for a couples therapist. They will want to understand your emotional bonds and attachment styles, which can provide insight into how you relate to others.
Emotional bonds can affect everything from who you choose as a partner, to how well your relationship flows, and even how it ends.
Your attachment style was developed when you were a child – so know that you may be diving in deep.
6. Be prepared to be completely honest
No relationship is perfect, and your couples counselor above anyone else knows that. They recognize that if you’re willing to put in the time to seek them out, there’s some issue that you want to work on.
Know that the couples therapist has seen it all: Money, boundaries, affairs, power dynamics, in-laws, sex problems. All are welcome in the safety and privacy of the therapy space.
Things might get heated, tense, emotional, messy. Don’t hold back – it’s important that your therapist is able to observe your dynamic in an organic state.
So be ready to speak up. Be ready to talk about the difficult things that make you uncomfortable. When you’re as honest as you can be, your therapist can better help you grow as a couple.
How can we find the right couples therapist for us?
It’s important to know that every couples therapist is different, so you and your partner should look for someone you both feel comfortable with.
Take your time looking for the right fit – that might mean coming up with a list of questions you want to ask the therapist, scheduling an initial call, and interviewing three or four different therapists until you find your perfect match.
As long as you and your partner are both committed to putting in the work, you’re off to a great start.
Ready to start your journey? Watch videos and book free initial calls with couples counselors on Zencare.co.
Couples counselors near you
Kristine is a Los Angeles-based writer who specializes in topics related to health, wellness, sex, and relationships. Her work can be seen on Bustle, HelloGiggles, AwesomenessTV, and Brit.Co, among others.