After years of helping couples here in NYC, I know that the hardest step in marriage counseling is showing up. If you are both there, hopefully, it is because you both see your relationship as worth repairing. Attending couples therapy does not mean you are on the verge of a breakup or divorce. In fact, couples therapy is most effective, and most quickly effective, when problems are addressed before they have time to hemorrhage or fester.
To get the most out of therapy, develop an understanding of the methods your therapist offers. Make sure your therapist is experienced in couples therapy and uses a method that you have researched and understand. In my practice in NYC, I use psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral therapy, which I adapt to each unique couple’s needs.
Before attending counseling, take some time to think through some hard questions. You should both think them through separately. You can take a few simple notes as memory joggers, but don’t write out long paragraphs that you intend to read at your sessions. The key to therapy is to speak honestly, from the heart.
And remember, therapy is not about verbally “beating up” on your partner, blaming your partner for all your problems, and getting your therapist “on your side.” A good therapist will see through this and direct the discussion on a more productive path.
Here are some questions to think through. They may not all apply to you, and they are not in any order of importance, because each couple is different, so their most important questions also differ.
Some big-picture questions:
- Why are you here? What made you take this step?
- Do you feel counseling is necessary, helpful, or a waste of time? What are your expectations from counseling?
- Are you just going through a rough time or is there something longer-term at play?
- What questions are you hoping won’t be asked? (This is a sign that these are the biggest pain points and actually need to be addressed)
- Are you both putting effort into the relationship?
- What do you each expect from the marriage?
- What are the main issues? Which are most important?
- Do you want to save this marriage/relationship? What about your marriage is worth saving?
- How can you grow as individuals as well as a couple?
- How do you see the future if you don’t fix these issues? How do you see the future if you do?
Some personal questions:
- What is your happiness level currently and how does it affect your relationship?
- What makes you happy?
- Do you love your spouse? What kind of love do you feel towards him/her?
- What bothers you most about your spouse? What do you like best?
- Do you feel attracted toward your spouse physically? Do you desire intimacy?
- Do you trust your partner? What do you or don’t you trust?
- How can trust be rebuilt? What needs to happen?
- Do you feel like you are trying harder than your spouse to heal the relationship?
- Are you romantically attracted to or involved with someone else? Have you thought about it?
- Do you have difficulty communicating? Do you think your partner communicates well?
- Do you feel loved? Safe? Comfortable together?
- What are you willing to do differently in order to improve your relationship and make your spouse and yourself happier?
Some “history” questions:
- What brought you together in the first place?
- In the recent past, how have you responded when your spouse has hurt or disappointed you?
- How has your spouse spent his/her time this past week? (This is checking for your degree of attentiveness to your partner and what kinds of things are memorable for you)
- What mistakes may have been made in the past that need to be addressed?
- Are there any specific past events in the marriage that are still causing pain?
- Do you have any “triggers” from your past that may be causing these problems?
Remember, you both need to think through and answer these questions. It will be difficult for you to answer them, and it will probably be even harder to hear your spouse answering them about you. To prepare yourself, look through them and change them to your spouse’s perspective:
- What bothers you most about me? What do you like best about me?
- What mistakes have I made that have hurt you?
- Do you love me? Are you attracted to me?
- Do you trust me? How can I regain your trust?
- What am I willing to do to make you happy?
If you have good communication with your spouse and the issues are limited, you may be able to make significant progress in your relationship just by addressing a few of these questions lovingly and calmly. However, most couples benefit from a neutral party who can guide them in constructive conversation and advise on some strategies that will work now and in the future. If you are in the New York City area, contact me at (917) 331-6075 to see how I can help you.