So you’ve decided to work on your relationship, and get some assistance from a therapist, kudos! Or maybe you’re still on the fence, questioning whether it’s the right time, and wondering what the process is like, check out my previous post to determine if now is the time.
While couples therapists can't necessarily gurantee the exact outcome of your relationship, here are 8 things you can do to understand the process and have a great expereince regardless of what happens between you and your partner:
1. Find a therapist who specializes in working with couples.
Think of it as you would with your regular health care. If you were to walk up to a clinic to see a doctor, and on the door a sign read, “Specializing in all ailments, from A-Z,” I’m not sure about you, but that wouldn’t elicit very much confidence in me that I had someone who truly specialized in what I was looking for.
There are many generalist therapists, and many of them are wonderful, however if I’m looking for help with my eyesight I’m going to go see an optometrist because that’s their specialization. The best way to find out a therapist’s specialization is to ask them over the phone before setting your appointment. If you’ve already set an appointment you can use the first session to ask any questions you might have about their specialization, and the way they work with couples.
2. Ask about the process.
Walking in to a first session can feel overwhelming, and you might not know what to expect. Most therapists use the first session as a opportunity to get to know you, and some will do what’s call an intake, where they ask many background questions that may not seem specific to your presenting issue, but are still important.
Others may include an intake questionnaire in their initial paperwork and have you complete it prior to coming to your first session. Either way, asking about what to expect for your first session over the phone or by email before walking in the door will help to alleviate some of the anxiety that can come up when you start couples counseling.
3. Use the first few sessions to learn more about the therapist’s process and gauge for good chemistry.
One of the most important parts of therapy is the relationship you will have with your therapist and it is often one of the best predictors of successful treatment. If you’re not totally comfortable, be sure to let the therapist know what it is that’s causing you discomfort. This will give the therapist an opportunity to address your feelings, and change course if necessary.
4. Take notes.
A lot can be discussed in a single session and because you can get caught up in the emotions that you’re bringing in to session, it’s important to write down any recommendations your therapist may be making including homework that they may request you do throughout the week.
5. Follow through with any homework that’s being given.
This may seem pretty obvious, but many clients forget and show up to their next session without working on things at home. Life can get in the way but if your relationship is important, then the things that your therapists is asking you and your partner to work on throughout the week will only help you reach your goals quicker. Some things may feel uncomfortable and are in fact designed to get you out of your comfort zone and to try things you may not have in the past. Trust in the process and do your best to complete tasks assigned in therapy.
6. Know that sometimes things can get worse before they get better.
You will likely be touching on things in session that are uncomfortable. They may be things you and your partner may have been avoiding due to the difficult emotions those topics bring up. It’s normal to find yourself feeling a little down in the beginning of therapy, so be sure to take notice of what you’re feeling between sessions in order to discuss them with your couples therapist and ask for recommendations about dealing with those emotions between sessions.
7. Continue to provide your therapist with feedback.
While many couples therapists make it avhabit to periodically check in with their clients about their level of satisfaction, some may not, but remember that you are the consumer and have the right to bring up any concerns or questions about the course of your treatment. If there’s something they haven’t addressed that you’d like to discuss let them know. A good couples therapist will be happy to accommodate or address any issues you may have.
8. Check in with your partner regularly regarding your progress in therapy.
It’s easy to get caught up in doing the work and engaging in the process of couples therapy, but in couples therapy there are two customers. Be sure to check in with your partner about how they feel things are going throughout the process. You may feel like you and the therapist are really hitting it off, but if your partner isn’t feeling the same, it should be addressed with the therapist. Again, the relationship between the therapist and clients tend to determine the outcome of therapy.
It’s also important to remember that while therapists are professionals and have many years of training that have helped prepare them for working with you and your partner, they are also human. Most therapists I know are life-long learners who are happy to make any adjustments needed to be sure you feel like you are getting the best services possible, but they don’t know what isn’t shared with them. Having an open relationship with your couples therapist is a beautiful thing, so don’t hesitate to ask questions and provide feedback!
Having a regular date-night is probably one of the most basic prescriptions given out by couple’s therapists, and it’s also one of the most commonly ignored. I think that’s because it’s so basic in nature that it leaves couples wondering how important it really is.
When it was just my husband and I, we didn’t really need a date night. Every night was date night. It was just the two of us, and not much really got in the way of us spending our evenings together. We’d have dinner together at home or out at one of our favorite restaurants, and even if we didn’t go out we’d do something fun together.
In the early days when we were on a tight budget and living in a tiny apartment, we’d play board games, play video games, and watch tons of shows on Netflix. Now that we have kids, I look back at those times and I honestly can’t believe how many shows we used to keep up with. These days I’m lucky to have one show!
When we had kids things changed dramatically! It was no longer just the two of us, and we started to get disconnected. Being a couple’s therapist, I was hypersensitive to this disconnection, and recognized that I had to practice what I preached so we started doing date-nights two times a month.
Our relationship had evolved, like so many couples that I work with. Adding children and businesses to our lives added so much richness, but it also added craziness, lack of sleep, and shifts in our priorities.
That disconnection that started to happen very subtly is something that I see so many couples experience. But they aren’t as sensitive to it, and it often goes unnoticed for long periods of time. The continual focus on things other than that primary relationship causes distance between couples. They stop connecting, laughing, and sharing their inner worlds with one another.
I recently read an article on Facebook about why date-nights are a waste of time, the author was a mom, and she listed all of the excuses that I hear most people give when trying to plan a date-night – the cost, the need for a babysitter, having to get out of your yoga pants, etc. and while I can attest to having those hang-ups myself, I have to call B.S. on those excuses!
When you stop dating your partner you leave the door open to lack of connection.
Date-night doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t even have to take place at night. It can be Sunday morning walk on a weekly basis, or a lunch together during the workweek – I’m actually an even bigger fan of those times because then no one falls asleep during a movie or on the way home.
The point of a regular date with your partner is the connection.
It’s talking and getting back to who you were before life got too busy. Even when couples don’t have kids, they often mistake time together as quality time. Just because you occupy the same space day in and day out doesn’t mean that you’re connecting. You could be in the living room, and your partner could spend the evening in the bedroom on their laptop, and do that for weeks on end. You’re experiencing two totally disconnected realities even in the same space.
Date-night is really that important.
It represents friendship. We often grant our friends an incredible amount of grace when it comes to disagreements and misunderstandings, and that’s exactly how we should treat our partners. But you have to have that relationship established in order to do so.
Here are my top tips for scheduling date-night successfully:
1. Choose a reoccurring day and time that works for both of you.
2. Get a shared calendar, and mark that day and time weekly or every other week.
3. Guard this date the same way you would if you had an important doctor’s appointment – it’s funny how we can leave work early, fight traffic, and do whatever else we need to do for such appointments – this is how you approach date-night as well.
4. Shoot for twice a month, or once a week if you can swing it.
5. If you don’t have a babysitter talk with other couple friends who may also be lacking a date-night, and offer to swap kids every other week.
6. Have fun planning. Switch off planning every other date, and surprise one another with an evening out, or even at home.
7. Be creative, and remember, it’s not about the cost; it’s about the connection!
And that’s that. Get your date on, start connecting, and remember that friendship should come first. If you get stuck and just can’t seem to get into the groove of dating your partner, feel free to reach out to me (909) 226-6124. I’m happy to help.
The New Year is a time to reflect on the year that’s passed, and the start of planning goals for the upcoming year. I personally love the thought of a clean slate, new goals, and sense of, “out with the old, in with the new.”
But I also know that it’s really only a façade. Things that have been occurring all year don’t just stop because the ball drops, and we scream, “Happy New Year!”
But it’s a marker of time, and that’s what I love about it. It marks a time to create change. I take a look at my business, my personal, and professional relationships, and I think about what I’d like to do more of, and what hasn’t been serving me, and I use the New Year to mark the start of changes that need to be made in order for me to live the fullest, healthiest life I can.
Whether you love to make resolutions, or to just reflect, I want to urge you to take an inventory of your closest relationships. Those are the ones that impact you the most.
Have you been waiting a while to approach your partner about couples counseling? Has it been something on your radar for a while, but you haven’t wanted to rock the boat and dive in?
Initiating that conversation can be scary, and it’s totally normal to feel apprehensive about it, but using this New Year as a marker, it may be the best time to have that convo, and here are some signs that couples therapy should be on your to-do list in 2017:
1. Communication has dwindled.
In long-term, committed relationships it's easy to fall into routine, and get into ruts. If you're a parenting couple, it's also easy for kiddos to become the center of your world, and your relationship, but when communication dwindles, and you're more like 2 ships passing in the night, and communication becomes only about the logistics, it may be time to look at your relationship and get some help to open up those lines of communication.
2. Sex has decreased significantly.
Just like with communication, life can get routine, and sleep often gets moved to the top of the list of priorities along with work and parenting. There is no magic number for the amount of sex you should be having per week, but when you start to notice that it's becoming much less frequent than it was previously, this is a sign that things need to be spiced up.
Conversations about sex can be difficult to have, and that's where therapy comes in. Working with a couple’s therapist inevitably leads to convos about sex, as it's a huge part of intimate relationships. A couple’s therapist can get you talking and sharing more intimately than you may be able to on your own, and having a space dedicated to focus on your relationship for one hour each week is not something that happens naturally in most relationships.
Many couples tell me that they try to have conversations about sex, but it always leads to an argument, and both partners feeling like they aren’t being heard, and like neither is getting their needs met. A lack of sex can be also be a sign that something else is missing in the relationship, and therapy can help uncover what’s keeping you stuck.
3. Fights are becoming more frequent or escalating more than before.
Just like with the other two items I shared – this can also be a symptom of something bubbling beneath the surface. Frequent fights about minor issues are usually a sign of resentment, or someone feeling as though their needs aren’t being met.
In my practice one of the first things I do with couples is to learn about their relationship – how they met, how it’s evolved, and what they think has led them to frequent fights.
Next, I have them complete a Relationship Check-up, which is an in-depth assessment about various aspects of their relationship. This tool is amazing! I love that it breaks everything down for the couple and for me so that we can take a look at areas that are working, as well as those that are leading to dissatisfaction for one or both partners.
From there, we dive in and talk about those areas that need some extra attention, and I work with the couple to provide interventions to help them get past those road blocks as they are typically what’s causing the frequent arguing.
4. Trust has been compromised.
This might seem like an obvious one, but a lot of couples tend to wait it out and hope things repair themselves on their own, and this often leads to more issues in the long-run.
If you feel like your trust has been violated in the relationship, reaching out and getting in to see a therapist early can be the best thing you can do to repair the trust, and other aspects of your relationship that you didn’t see as relating to this one issue.
Couples counseling can also help to prevent further violations of trust from happing in the future and open up necessary lines of communication and intimacy between you and your partner.
5. You feel lonely.
We can’t get all of our needs met from one single relationship, but when you begin to feel lonely and like there’s a lack of connection between you and your partner, this is a major red flag.
Work, kids, and other commitments can get in the way of having the deep connection you’d like to have, but the sooner you address the issue, the less likely things are to continue on a downward spiral.
According to Dr. John Gottman, world-renowned couples therapist and researcher, couples wait an average of 6 years until they get help. That’s a long time to be unhappy, and it’s a long time to keep up bad habits and build up resentments. The longer a couple waits, the more difficult it is to make repairs in the relationship, so my advice is to start out strong this New Year. I’m happy to help, you can reach me at (909) 226-6124.
“I never meant for this to happen,” is what I typically hear when I sit down with someone who has been unfaithful to their partner.
I genuinely believe them when they tell me this because doing this work, I’ve heard from plenty of partners who have strayed in some fashion, and this is a common thread. They are good people, and they’ve made a mistake, and it’s not my job to judge, but to help them understand what lead to their behaviors so that they can prevent it from happening again.
There are many types of affairs. The most common one that I see is what Mira Kirchenbaum calls, the “unmet needs” affair. In her book, When Good People have Affairs, she outlines many types of affairs and I often recommend her book to clients who have or are having an affair because it can really help them understand their behaviors better, in conjunction with the work we do in session.
The unmet needs affair happens when you feel as though there is something missing in your relationship with your partner.
It could be sex, intimacy, or intelligent conversation. But focusing on one aspect of the relationship that is missing is a trap, and many times people only come to realize what they’ve been missing after they’ve already crossed the line.
When you look outside of your relationship for that one unmet need, you are essentially negating all of the many other positive aspects that likely exist in your relationship.
A whole, healthy, relationship only includes sex or conversation as a very small piece that makes up the relationship, however the trap occurs when you begin to see this piece as a gaping hole – it has the potential to become everything, and with the help of an affair partner, you begin to negate the many other positive aspects that you once based your relationship on.
Getting involved with someone else in order to fulfill this unmet need is typically clouded by the electrifying rush that happens in new relationships. It’s quite normal for people to see their affair partner as the most amazing person they’ve ever met, however an affair relationship is only a façade – it exists in a vacuum, and lacks much of the other important aspects that secure, long-term relationships need to survive.
Using another person to fulfill that one aspect that was missing from your marriage is fundamentally flawed because without fully knowing your affair partner, you are unable to see all of their true characteristics, as this relationship will also have missing aspects to it.
If you think back to the beginning of your marriage, I’m sure there were fireworks. Things in the beginning of relationships tend to be intense and full of passion.
I once read that falling in love has the same impact as a drug on the brain. It’s easy to become addicted to that feeling, and those intense emotions cloud your judgment.
The beginning of a relationship is when you go out of your way for that other person – you stay up all night talking even if you’ve got to be at work at 7am, you write silly love poems, and drive an hour both ways just to spend an hour in the arms of your love.
If you’re stuck in the difficult spot of having already crossed the line and engaged in an affair to fulfill a need that was lacking in your marriage, you’re not alone. I know that there is a great deal of shame and pain that comes from making that decision, but there is also support for you to right your wrongs.
Although the road is long and difficult, I’ve seen some wonderful things come from those who are willing to look at themselves, their decisions, and learn from their mistakes.
Relationships can be repaired, and that shame can go away, but the first step is asking for help. If you could use some support and want to begin the process of understanding your behavior, give me a call at (909) 226-6124, and we can talk about ways therapy can help.