First of all, let me personally congratulate you on taking the step of going to couples’ therapy. The average couple waits six years to address an ongoing issue through couples counseling. I wouldn’t blame you if it took forever to make that decision. After all, the media portrays therapy as this one thing doomed couples go to as a last resource to save their relationship. Well, as someone who’s been to a couples’ therapy session before, let me tell you it doesn’t look, feel, or go how you think it will.
Going to the Meeting
After days of looking for what might be the right therapist, you and your partner finally pick the one. Both of you meet at the therapist’s office, and the whole process starts. As you wait anxiously by the waiting area for your appointment, a thousand questions go through your head. Will this work? What happens if it doesn’t work? Are they going to judge me? What if I say the wrong thing? Can I say the wrong thing?
Essentially, a LOT is happening in your head.
Then, things get a bit more intimate. Suddenly, your therapist walks over and introduces themselves. At this point, they’ll hand you a bunch of paperwork. It almost feels as if you’re giving your soul away to this person. Here’s what all that paperwork is for:
- Gathering your personal information – phone number, address, etc.
- Making sure they have your consent – this document outlines everything the therapy will discuss and your willingness to participate.
- The confidentiality agreement – so you understand how the information shared during your session can and cannot be used.
- A quick snapshot of what brought you in – this is a personal disclosure of what you believe brought you to therapy in the first place. Your partner won’t see your response.
From here, the therapist works in various ways, and it’s up to you to see if you’re comfortable with their approach.
Your First Couples Therapy Session Breakdown
In my experience, there’s nothing more nerve-wracking than sitting in front of a stranger and openly discussing your relationship. Talk about healthy boundaries for once! Well, you still need boundaries with your therapist. After all, you’re not forced to disclose anything you don’t want to.
First: Extreme Anxiety
For starters, you’ll be anxious. Not your average anxiousness level. This is GR8ER levels of anxiety. When you agree to seek assistance, you’re openly accepting that your relationship needs help, and that’s a highly vulnerable space.
A piece of advice for this particular area? Don’t overthink it. In our first meeting, I kept thinking about body language and if that would trigger some assumptions as to the stage of our relationship. Would they judge me if we sit close together versus if we keep a distance? What if we don’t hold hands? If I cry, will my partner feel bad? Do your best to shut down these thoughts and remain in the present. Remember that no one is here to judge you, and both you and your partner have agreed to be vulnerable for these sessions.
Then: Prepare for Brutal Honesty
Because you’re both in a vulnerable and unrecognized territory, your guard is likely to come down, which means you’ll be more honest. Most therapists will start asking general questions, such as, “What brings you in today?” “What do you think went wrong?” and “What are you hoping to get out of this session?” Trust me. You’ll be surprised as to how honest yours and your partner’s answers will be. After all, at this point, you believe there’s nothing left to lose, and you both want to figure a way out of whatever rut you’re stuck in.
Don’t let the emotions scare you off. You’ll likely both share some raw emotions you didn’t know the other one felt. Most likely, you’ll feel shocked, moved, and responsible, all at the same time. You’ll also be surprised at how you can both voice these emotions without fighting. Hence, the third person in the room, making everything easier to digest.
Plus: You Take Turns
Many couples believe they can find a solution to their issues on their own. While this might be true, the fact is that most of us are terrible at arguing. Emotions come into play, personalities clash, and overall every argument turns into a debate to figure out who has the most valid arguments and who can speak louder.
In therapy, things don’t go that way. While you might overlap sometimes, there’s a sense of patience – mostly imparted by the therapist. Even when you feel the urge to speak up and defend your version of the facts, you wait because your partner is making a point in a completely different way. Plus, there’s someone else listening in the room, you want them to listen to your case thoroughly.
Some therapists might even have rules in place. This is common when couples argue in an unhealthy manner. Your therapist might recommend taking turns for each one to speak up and make their case, but they mostly listen to their partner’s entire argument before commenting on it.
Finally: There Will Be Homework
If you believed therapy was a go talk and forget about it kind of deal, I’m sorry to tell you it doesn’t work that way. After every therapy session, there will be homework – even after your first session. During each meeting, you set new goals you want to achieve in your relationship to get you out of your rut. Your therapist will most likely recommend activities – aka homework – to help you reach these goals.
Homework can include activities such as writing down common goals, thinking about ways to split the chores at home, find out what are you always fighting about, and find ways to solve those fights. If intimacy is the issue, expect assignments that require exploring your sexual desires with your partner. Couples therapy homework can often be uncomfortable, but if you’re not putting in the work, there’s no point in going and speaking to your therapist for an hour every week.
After Your First Couples Therapy Session
The moment you leave the room, you’ll know if you made the right decision. Couples therapy is a commitment, and it requires that you’re both onboard and ready to try it. But, it’s also about making sure you’ve found the right therapist. Make sure you’re both comfortable with the way your therapist handled the session, the type of questions they asked, and even the kind of homework they suggested.
I remember our therapist said, “here’s how I do my couple sessions, if at the end of the therapy you feel as I’m not the right fit, please let me know.” That was a breath of fresh air for me, as there was no pressure. But most importantly, she said, “also, if I don’t believe I’m the right fit for you guys, I’m more than happy to recommend someone I think will be.” Again, therapy needs to work for everyone involved. Otherwise, it will be a lost cause.
A Note from GR8NESS
Every couple is different, and every therapy session will feel different. Don’t feel discouraged if you find the first sessions to be awkward or useless. It takes time to find your groove. Don’t lose hope in finding the right therapist; don’t settle on someone who doesn’t make you feel comfortable.
Please know that you’re on the right path and don’t feel defeated if your therapy sessions conclude with the two of you parting ways. Sometimes, it takes some soul digging and a safe space to realize a relationship is holding you back instead of pushing you forward.