Imagine yourself driving to a couple's therapist together. Are you in the same car, or driving separately? I know, many of us would drive separately simply because we are coming from our busy lives and commitments in divergent directions. What I'm asking is, ‘how does it feel as you approach therapy?’ Are we together or separate in what we hope for? Do we understand and respect each other's motivations in approaching therapy? In four decades of therapy with couples, I've noticed that how couples approach therapy together is a most crucial factor in positive outcomes. So, when any couple gets ready for therapy together, there are better ways to prepare together that may just help the couple "get where we're wanting to go" ( and help the therapist better connect with where the couple needs to go), as sessions begin. Here are three crucial questions to answer together before you take that drive to the therapist:
What has been a problem in our relationship we both recognize, even if we see it differently? One couple identified sexual dissatisfaction in their relationship as a mutual problem, yet never had really spoken to each other about it as "our problem" outside arguments of blame or shame. Once they began sharing and recognizing this touchy subject as "ours", they could approach therapy looking for "our" ways to relate sexually together.
What pattern do we need to let go of, in order to heal as a couple? One couple was stuck in this self protective pattern: Husband: If you're going to keep on about me being distant, I'm just gonna leave! Wife: You can't ever stay long enough to really hear me. Do you just want me to stop talking to you? What does this couple probably need to let go of in order to heal? A possible answer is this couple needs to let go of the circular dilemma they have created between them of ‘push-pull’ over sharing and listening. First person and affirmative communication techniques would be a relief to this couple. “ I need ____”, ”I want___”, and “I hear you saying____” can help a couple disentangle dysfunctional patterns that separate them from genuine relating.
What is at stake in staying and working together? Often, I will encourage couples to simply to begin remembering what being together means to each partner. One way is to sit facing each other so closely that you can touch elbows, knees, and toes. Sit even three minutes in this position, remembering what you like or admire in the other without words. Make eye contact and smile as it comes upon you genuinely. The couple who does this before coming to their first therapy session will know much more about what might, (or might not) connect you as a couple. A pioneer in couples’ therapy, Charlie Shedd used to say, Good couple relations are all about a four-letter word. After the laughter died down, he’d say, that word is “Talk”. The best thing to do in tough times together is keep talking, keeping these three questions above in mind. Checking out on each other or blaming can’t help. Talking with a fresh couple focus can help, as you drive to therapy together.