Therapy FAQ

How to Prepare for Couples Counseling and What to Expect

Ready to take on couples counseling with your partner? Preparing for your first session is important for setting yourselves up for success. Let Grow Therapy help you go in ready to make progress!

therapist sean abraham By Sean Abraham, LCSW

Updated on May 12, 2024

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What was once just an afterthought, couples counseling is being utilized more often to work through relationship issues. Studies have shown that 70% of therapists treat couples and that couples therapy has been predicted to be an area of massive growth in the upcoming years. 

Experts hypothesize that the top reasons for more couples headed toward couples therapy are the high divorce rate in the United States, the effects of relational concerns on the mental stability of partners and children, and simply the general desire for improved relationships. In this article, we’ll cover what you should do to best prepare if you’re considering couples therapy. 

Getting Ready for Your First Session

With the growing concern for mental health conditions in the United States, relationship troubles account for many of those concerns. Statistically, the divorce rate in America still sits at around 50%.

Sadly, relationship troubles, stress, and divorce result in multiple negative outcomes for the individuals in the relationship and any children involved. The severity of those adverse outcomes will mostly depend on the relationship’s longevity, current issues at hand, the age of the individuals (as well as their life stage), and other factors. 

Couples therapy can be sought as a preventative measure to seek outside help for difficult issues within a relationship. Sometimes couples enter the therapy process together to prevent issues from forming; others use it as a tool to deter from heading down the divorce road. Perhaps there are issues that couples know they want to move forward with addressing, but they simply don’t know how; this is where couples counselors can help. 

Why Couples Therapy?

You may find that you and your spouse always argue yet can’t find solutions. Sometimes, it may feel like you are having two separate conversations and can’t connect. When you’re in a relationship, you are bound to change and grow independently and together; it just may not always sync well together, causing distress. 

According to Kristian Wilson, a licensed mental health counselor with Grow Therapy, “Counseling is a wise decision if you find yourself or your partner are experiencing any of the following:

Once you’ve decided to look into couples therapists, it can be normal to experience anxiety and uncertainty while waiting for the appointment. 

How to Have an Open Mind and Positive Attitude 

Couples who begin the transition into couples therapy often firmly believe that their other half is responsible for the relationship issues. This thinking doesn’t promote a healthy, open-minded approach and may further strain the relationship. One of the primary goals in couples therapy is to help each partner see a birds-eye view of the relationship as a whole — to see the bigger picture. Each individual plays a role in the concerns and issues within the relationship; the key is to help them identify their roles and adopt strategies to help themselves and each other. 

An extremely common issue in relationships is poor communication skills. Both parties in the relationship should determine their individual and collective goals as a team. They should allow themselves to go into it with an open mind, realizing that each person plays a part in the issues and remembering the goals. Walking into couples therapy with a positive attitude is another way to set you and your partner up for success. 

It can also be very helpful, and is very common, to have each person in the relationship engage in individual therapy outside out couples therapy. 

Prepare to Discuss Relationship Issues in Therapy

Whether you have already booked an appointment or are still searching for the right therapist, seek a trustworthy counselor specializing in couples. There are varying degrees of credentials, experience levels, and specializations regarding therapy and counseling. 

However, to get the most out of your experience, finding someone with experience not only with couples but also in some areas you and your partner are struggling in can be the best approach. 

Set Goals and Develop a Treatment Plan

As you prepare for your couples therapy session, each partner should list the issues within your relationship. This list should include how each person feels they may contribute to said issues. 

According to Wilson, the first day of couples therapy is when the therapist asks questions, gets to know the couple, understands their goals and priorities, and devises a plan. Wilson also shares tips for couples seeking therapy:

Complete Questionnaires and Assessments

Like many healthcare services, there will likely be new client paperwork and assessments for you and your partner to complete before your appointment. These forms will likely be consent forms and HIPAA forms, and there may be questionnaires asking about medical history, medications, previous counseling experiences, and questions about why you are seeking help. 

Not completing these forms as requested may interfere with your initial intake appointment, or the specialist may not see you; note that each establishment may have their own requirements. 

Dealing with Sensitive Issues in Couples Counseling 

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a public health issue and involves physical abuse, intimidation, sexual assault, battery, and any other type of abusive behavior that is committed by a person attempting to exert power or control over another person. These abusive behaviors can appear at any time and in any relationship. 

It is important to note here that couples counseling for a couple that has had a history of domestic violence and abuse within that relationship is NOT recommended.

Infidelity

Unfortunately, infidelity is a sensitive subject that is a common occurrence in relationships. Anytime infidelity occurs, the relationship foundation becomes broken. The partner who cheated may feel remorse and intend to change. However, the act breaks the established trust. This makes it difficult for the other partner to forgive and move forward. Still, some couples can seek couples therapy and have success working through their differences and moving forward. 

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is another common issue in relationships with varying degrees of complexity. While some may feel that substance abuse is an individual problem, it impacts partners, children, and other loved ones of the person dealing with substance use. This may be another area where individual and couples therapy may be equally beneficial.

Past Sexual (or Other) Trauma

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 50% of women have been victimized by sexual assault at some point in their lifetime (in addition to one out of three men). Sexual trauma can impact anyone at any time and carry many complications. Whether someone has experienced sexual trauma as a child or an adult, it can impact interpersonal and romantic relationships. 

Sexual trauma survivors may experience mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as a fear of intimacy. All these affect the individual, their loved ones, children, etc. 

Individual therapy would greatly benefit anyone who has experienced any form of trauma in their life. Some things happen to people that we can simply not process without help. Couples therapy may be helpful for those experiencing relationship distress due to these past traumas; however, individual therapy may be the best place to start the healing process.

What to Do After Couples Counseling 

Wilson states couples should “allow reflection time after a session.” Counseling can be triggering, complex, and painful. Each person should participate in activities and self-care that make them feel happy and relaxed before and after. This can ease the tension that could be felt during sessions. 

Takeaways

The future made possible through couples therapy looks bright for all who take advantage. If both parties are able and willing to pursue couples counseling, it’s worth a try to find the therapist that’s right for you. If you are ready to start, book your session today with Grow Therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
therapist sean abraham Sean Abraham, LCSW

Sean Abraham is a licensed clinical social worker who works with those who have struggled with substance use, depression, anxiety, loss, communication problems, student life, as well as other mental health concerns.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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