The amount of time couples therapy takes depends on many factors. Some of them depend on the clients’ traits, goals, and willingness to work. The following factors are broken down into characteristics that often make therapy faster and more effective (and factors that do the opposite).
- You want to be in therapy. You may not want to be in therapy like you want a nice dinner, but you have decided it is an opportunity to improve your life that you want to take. You may want to be in therapy like you could want to work with a personal trainer… You know there are long-term benefits, even if every moment will not be fun and hard work will be involved.
- You have goals for couples counseling. Do you know what you want to achieve? A therapist can help guide you, but everyone is more effective if you have a general map of where you want to go.
- You are willing and happy to do homework. Sometimes homework doesn’t take any additional time but is simply a matter of practicing what you learn in couple counseling or marriage counseling.
- You stick to a reasonable and consistent frequency. Once a week or every two weeks tends to work well for more couples. Couples who get to a good position can maintain gains with monthly appointments. Couples who pop in every six weeks for a session or only after a big fight are unlikely to see positive improvements.
- You are willing to open up about your relationship. While a counselor can help you feel comfortable and the therapeutic relationship is significant, the more comfortable you are sharing what you think and feel, the better off you will be. Being comfortable and open in talking about typically personal topics such as your sex life may also be necessary.
- An understanding that improvement isn’t always linear. Sometimes you may take two steps forward and then one step back. In addition, some topics may arise that require somewhat uncomfortable work for you to have lasting improvements.
- Patience. Couples counseling is usually not a quick fix. If it took years for your concerns to build, it may take months for them to lessen.
- You have an ongoing affair. If there is an ongoing affair, you need to decide which relationship you want to be in before working on extensive treatment of any relationship. Those with an ongoing affair may need to process how they feel about each relationship via individual sessions. It isn’t easy to participate in repairing one connection if you are still actively involved in another relationship (with an exception being you are dealing with procedural or legal bottlenecks in finalizing a divorce).
- Your primary goal of counseling is to have a place to fight with a referee. While this can be an essential part of counseling, it is better if you have a goal to learn to disagree without a referee over the long term.
- Your primary goal is to “fix” your partner. Defensiveness is a significant relationship hurdle. Can you see your part of why the relationship needs work and focus on fixing that part?
- Your primary goal is to get your counselor on your side. Some couples come to therapy seemingly trying to get a professional on their side with the intent of calling on them to testify in the event of a divorce. This is not a reason to go to counseling. Counselors generally hear hearsay, and counselors can be difficult to compel to testify. In addition, cases involving custody considerations are typically regarded as outside a marriage therapist’s scope of practice to make any recommendations. Don’t go to couples counseling with the intent of getting someone to someday side with you in court. It is also better if your primary concern is not getting your counselor on your side for the sake of validation or avoiding personal blame. Couples who do well are concerned about the long term health of the relationship over what their marriage therapist thinks of them.
- Perhaps the least helpful behavior of all is getting cold feet and not attending the first session. While this is understandable, the first step and sometimes most difficult step is just showing up.
In a related note, read about how important (or perhaps unimportant) location is for counseling.
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