How to Prepare for Couples Therapy
Why should you have to prepare for couples therapy? If you have been chewed up by years of conflict, if your heart is frozen shut by years of distance and indifference, then maybe you have no strength left to prepare for couples therapy. For those situations, therapy is come-as-you-are. Just come in and bring nothing but the thinnest ray of hope that by some miracle things could get a little better. If that’s all you can do, then that’s enough for us to get started.
But if you feel crushed by relentless anger or loneliness, and you have no strength to do anything, except you are capable of a small mental act, a simple thought or a mental image, then this is already a good start. Then ask yourself, “What kind of relationship would you like to have with your partner?” This does not have to feel realistic today. You don’t have to believe right now that your partner is willing and able to work with you toward this ideal. Just find a couple of words, or even just one word, to describe what you want is enough. If you came up with a word or a few words for the relationship goal, that’s great. In therapy, knowing what you want is an important step forward. Let’s take another step forward.
Think about the role models of the kind of marriage that you want. This could be your own parents if you want the kind of relationship they had. Or this could be your relatives or friends. What character qualities did they have that made it possible for them to have this kind of relationship? What values did they have? How did they act towards one another? How did they get along when things were good? How did they resolve disagreements?
Once you have this role model in your mind, consider what qualities you need to contribute to the creation of the kind of relationship you want. It does not matter if you don’t have these qualities right now, and you are not sure how to develop them. It is my job to help you develop or discover these qualities within yourself and to make the process inspiring, pleasant, and fun. All you need to do now is to imagine and name these qualities.
There will be some things you will need to bring to the table to bring about positive change. First, you will need to spend time. You might prefer recreation to couples therapy or might prefer to deal with other problems. But if you want a better relationship, you will need to invest some time.
Second, you will need to give up some emotional comfort and use it make an investment in couples therapy. There is not a lot of comfort in a marriage that does not work, but that’s the devil that you know. In couples therapy, you can exchange the emotional “comfort” of being used to doing nothing about conflict and loneliness for the discomfort of trying new ways of thinking and behaving.
Being vulnerable rather than confrontational might be uncomfortable, but it’s the only way to have peace in your relationship. Thinking about whether you are living according to your values is tiring. You might decide that your values are calling on you to do something differently. But who should you listen to, if not your own values?
After listing several Do’s, I want to mention one Don’t: Don’t approach explosive subjects with your partner before you start couples therapy. Leave those for therapy, where they can be defused.
There are many more questions or exercises that can orient partners away from conflict and toward dialog and collaboration. These will be addressed in future articles.