If you’re in (or considering) Couples Therapy, one of the most important questions you should ask yourself is: is it working?
Of course, expectations should be reasonable; i.e. realizing a few sessions lack the power to be truly transformative.
But the expectations should be there.
Couples therapy should help and it should work.
You should be able to enjoy the sense that you are getting somewhere over the long term.
I hope some of these examples help you to discern.
1. Fights Don’t Last as Long
When some couples first come into see me – they describe fights that are intense. Fights that last hours. Or even days.
Lengthy fights are difficult for so many reasons:
- they reduce hope that things can ever get better
- they can be scary and increase fear
- they leave you feeling exhausted
- unrelated people and things get thrown in the mix
- you may lose sight of what you are really fighting about
- problems resurface that were already resolved
When couples are really doing the work in therapy, their communication patterns and habits become much clearer. Couples learn ways to communicate that are more fulfilling and productive. Fighting still occurs, but both people become invested in getting a quicker, better sense of what’s really going on.
You learn to stop the negative cycle – sooner.
2. The Couple Learns How They Each Contribute to Communication Breakdowns
Couples notoriously blame the other person for problems in the relationship. All couples therapists expect this.
A reality is though, both partners almost always contribute to the communication problems.
Even if one person seems to be more at fault.
As a couples therapist, I look for nuanced ways to understand the dynamic interaction between both people.
Usually when one person does (or doesn’t do) something, it is in response/reaction to the other person doing (or not doing) something.
Most often, a couple’s problems are less “cause and effect” and more “bidirectionally” related.
With genuine trust and safety, I utilize the opportunity to reflect what I am seeing back to couples.
It is a solid relationship that enables both members of the couple to be able to hear and understand me; to trust my intentions to help support the relationship.
3. You’re Learning More About Your Partner and Yourself
Through couples therapy, you can expect to gain a deeper understanding of your partner and yourself.
This means understanding more about their/your:
- attachment style
- preferred love language
- family of origin dynamics
- thoughts and feelings
- motivations behind certain behaviors
- most commonly used defense mechanisms
- personality styles
- how and why they/you react in certain ways
- wants and needs
Learning more in these areas will help you to feel closer to one another. It will help you find more successful ways to communicate with each other. It will increase your ability to empathize with each other. And most importantly, it will help you to take each other’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings – less personally.
4. Your Relationship Expectations Have Shifted
One of the biggest barriers to more relational satisfaction is almost always unmet or unrealistic expectations. This is often problematic because most couples don’t discuss their expectations at the beginning of a relationship. The beginning is often the fun part where each person delights in getting to know each other and being in the moment.
Unfortunately, expectations for relationships are often:
- born from what they think they’ve observed in other people’s relationships
- not clearly communicated, or communicated at all
- desired without having to communicate about them
In couple’s therapy, I take a look at these four categories for each member of the couple. These areas often lead to a rich, deep understanding of what the expectations are, where they came from, and what might be more realistic moving forward.
Once expectations are restructured, couples notice significant improvement in the overall quality of their relationship.
5. You Can Save Conversations for Therapy
In the beginning of couples therapy, it can be easy to have several fights between sessions. In fact, early sessions often feel like “catching the therapist up” on the conflicts that have ensued in the week prior. Sometimes even using the sessions “to fight.”
This is okay in the beginning, but in the long term – this should change.
The work that is done with communication and understanding of self & other should absolutely leave you feeling like you can put a pin in a conflict and revisit it with the help of your couples therapist.
Over time, couples begin to pick up on the new pattern of communication their therapist is teaching them.
Couples also start feeling a sense of personal satisfaction that they can make the changes they are learning about.
Couples increase their sense of self-esteem and “can do” attitudes by putting their hard work into practice between sessions.
6. Your Therapist Notices Improvement
If your therapist tells you that they notice improvement, believe them. We are here to support you.
We are here to cheer you on.
We are here to give you detailed, nuanced feedback about what we notice in each of you individually and in your relationship.
Let that matter to you.
And don’t be afraid to ask your therapist what they are noticing about your relationship. A solid couple’s therapist will be honest, candid, and caring in their approach.
I hope these signs help you determine if your couple’s therapy is working for you. And if you haven’t started couples therapy yet, I hope they give you a sense of what you can (and should!) expect.
Always my best,