Generally, when people start a relationship they don’t fully realize what they’re signing up for. It can come as a bit of a shock to gradually discover shortcomings in each other that you weren't aware of going into the relationship.
Within the context of couples counseling, I'll help you and your mate adopt a more supportive approach towards each other's areas for growth. This will actually increase the chances that you'll both make some positive changes. And when both of you make positive changes, your relationship will improve.
You could be your partner’s most important teacher in life, and your partner could be your most important teacher in life.
You know each other best, and in order to have a better relationship, you both might be willing to make some changes in your behavior based on each other’s feedback. The problem is that you currently may not be helping one another to make positive changes because of the way you're giving feedback to each other.
In the non-judgmental atmosphere of couples counseling, I'll teach you and your mate how to talk effectively about aspects of one another's behavior that aren't working well. Once you learn to communicate with each other this way, you'll both probably be more motivated to make some adjustments in your behavior on your partner's behalf.
I'll also help both of you to stop taking each other's behavior so personally. When you stop personalizing each other’s errors, you’ll stop being angry, resentful, unkind, and dismissive towards one another.
You may have also found it difficult to apologize to your partner because he or she may have put you on the defensive regarding your errors. And you may have found it difficult to forgive your partner because he or she may not have apologized wholeheartedly or at all.
In the supportive environment of couples counseling, I'll help you and your mate break the vicious cycle of not apologizing much and not forgiving much. You'll each recognize how you can prevent this vicious cycle from creating more and more distance between you.
I’m not saying this is easy. But I think you’ll find that it pays off magnanimously.
Couples counseling can be an incredibly rewarding and transformative process. Are you ready to get started? If so, consider contacting me at (510) 508-2169 for a FREE consultation so we can discuss how I might be able to help you have a happier relationship. Or, if you're ready to move forward, you may be interested in the essay below.
How to Make the Best Use of Couples Counseling
By Cynthia Mansur, M.A.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
The purpose of this essay is to help you derive as much benefit as possible from our work together. Reading this will give you a snapshot of how to prepare for and make the best use of our sessions.
The Primary Goal of Couples Counseling
The main goal of couples therapy is to help you gain more insight into yourself, your partner, and the dynamics between you. Couples counseling is intended to help you and your partner recognize and break ineffective patterns of interaction, and develop healthy new ways of relating that work better for each of you and your relationship.
Couples therapy is an opportunity to get clearer about the kind of life and relationship you want to create going forward, as well as the kind of partner you want to be in order to create the life and relationship you aspire to. Our work together is also a chance to help you and your partner gain increased insight into the individual stumbling blocks that prevent each of you from becoming the kind of partner you want to be, and how to gradually overcome those blocks.
Some people are committed to remaining in their relationship no matter what, and use couples counseling to improve the quality of their relationship as much as possible. Others are uncertain whether they want to remain in their relationship, and begin couples therapy in order to see how much their relationship can improve so they can better decide whether to continue in the relationship.
And, sometimes people start couples counseling without the intention of improving their relationship. Instead, they want to focus on reaching a decision about whether they’ll stay in the relationship, and on maintaining good relations with their partner after a break-up or divorce, should they go their separate ways.
The More You Invest in Your Relationship, the Greater the Reward
The effectiveness of couples counseling is partly determined by the abilities of the couples therapist, and partly by each partner's attitude and motivation regarding the process of relationship therapy. Each partner's willingness to work as a team on improving their relationship will also determine how much the couple benefits from this process.
To create the relationship you really desire, each of you will need to invest some time and energy, and step out of your emotional comfort zone.
Investing time in your relationship.
It obviously takes some investment of time to create a quality relationship. During the process of relationship counseling and beyond, you may need to find more time to be together, to be with family, to play, coordinate, nurture, relax, hang out, and plan. This may encroach somewhat on your personal or professional time, which can be a tough choice.
That said, couples therapy can help you and your partner minimize and avoid conflicts that would have previously drained a considerable amount of your time and energy. As a result, you’ll probably find that you use your personal and professional time in a more focused and productive manner since you won’t be feeling upset regarding frequent conflicts.
Also, a common topic that arises in couples counseling is for one or both people to ask their partner to respect their personal and/or professional time more, and in some cases, make adjustments to afford them more time for personal and professional pursuits. With the help of therapy, couples generally find that their time together is higher quality than before which makes them more amenable to respecting each other's personal and professional time more, and possibly even affording each other more personal and professional time.
Investing energy in your relationship.
It takes effort to sustain improvement over time. For instance, to remember to be more appreciative, more aware of your partner’s needs, more respectful, etc. going forward requires a certain investment of energy. It often becomes apparent in couples counseling that one reason why a given relationship isn't going that well is because one or both people haven’t been putting enough effort into it. So, conversely, re-building the relationship requires more effort on the part of each “team player.”
The reality is that each partner needs to make a certain amount of effort during the process of relationship therapy and going forward in order to achieve sustained improvement. Just like a pair of figure skaters, one partner cannot singlehandedly turn the couple into an exceptional team.
Stepping out of your comfort zone for the sake of your relationship.
Couples counseling encourages people to step out of their emotional comfort zone in service of their relationship. Examples of this are trying new ways of thinking and doing things, listening with curiosity rather than interrupting your partner, speaking up in an effective manner rather than becoming resentful, withdrawing, or voicing your concerns in an angry manner that doesn’t further your cause. You’ll have to risk leaving your emotional comfort zone in order to try these changes on for size, but you can’t explore other continents if you always need to keep the shoreline in view.
How to Prepare for Couples Counseling Sessions
A common unproductive pattern in couples therapy is for each person to say, “I don’t know what to talk about, do you?” While this blank slate approach may generate some interesting conversations, it’s rather hit or miss.
A good way to prepare for couples counseling sessions is for each of you to reflect on your reasons for being in therapy prior to each session. This reflection takes a bit of effort, but most people wouldn’t call an important meeting and say, “I actually don’t have any agenda items. Does anyone else have something they’d like to bring up?” Your preparation will pay big dividends and will help you keep the big picture in mind during valuable session time.
A Crash Course on How to Improve Your Relationship
Here are some ideas that can help you determine what you’d like to address in couples therapy and benefit as much as possible from our work together.
Attitude is essential.
Your willingness to change and to think about problems differently than you have been are far more important than any actions you might take.
It’s often easy to determine what you could do differently to improve the relationship, but the real questions are what might stop you from implementing those changes, and what has stopped you thus far. Couples counseling can help you come to grips with these questions and thus increase your ability to make changes that would greatly benefit your relationship.
Your partner’s capacity for change is not nearly what you’re hoping for, and your capacity for change is not nearly what your partner is hoping for. In my experience as a couples therapist, couples move to a new level of maturity in their relationship when they accept this reality.
You’re likely to discover that you have some erroneous beliefs about your partner’s reasons for doing certain things, and that he or she has erroneous beliefs about yours reasons for doing certain things. Sadly, people often don’t want to consider the possibility that some of their beliefs about their partner are erroneous, but couples counseling tends to help people modify these fixed beliefs.
Focus on what you can change versus what you want your partner to change.
In order to derive maximum benefit from couples therapy, it’s best to set more goals for yourself than for your mate. Although it’s quite common to try and change our partner rather than modifying our own expectations, this often creates problems. The reason is that the changes we’re hoping for may be well-meaning but unrealistic. Fortunately, couples counseling can help people become more realistic regarding their expectations of their partner, which can reduce frustration and increase harmony in a relationship.
Couples therapy will challenge you to re-evaluate how you think, feel, and act in certain situations. Often people are convinced that their partner should make some significant changes, and are less interested in considering what they themselves can improve. However, as we work together, you’ll become increasingly aware of how your behavior affects your partner’s behavior. This can help motivate you to make positive changes which, in turn, could cause your mate to make positive changes as well. This is the way you can best influence your partner’s behavior.
In my work as a marriage counselor I find that people often cling to the notion that they can change their partner or that their partner will make dramatic changes even though this has never happened so far. Although you can’t change each other, you may have the ability to influence each other. The most effective way to influence your mate and improve your relationship is to become the best partner you can be.
Couples therapy clients often tell me that they get along better when they go on a date or trip together. It's easy to be at our best when we’re relaxed and have a temporary hiatus from some of life’s usual stressors. But your character and love for your partner are really tested when you’re tired and had a hard day at work, and the air conditioning in your home is malfunctioning. You can blame each other at these times, or you can become the person you want to be. If you pay attention to what irks you and how you handle those situations, you’ll probably learn a lot about yourself.
It’s easy to envision what you’d like your partner to do differently, but not so easy for you partner to make those changes. I’ve noticed in couples counseling that the more people believe their partner should change, the less effort they make to improve their relationship.