Talking to a couples therapist about your relationship can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know what to expect. Remember that it’s the therapist’s job to help you overcome the issues that stand in the way of reaching your goals (and your partner’s) for your relationship. While the process of therapy is catered to your relationship’s individual needs, there are a few things everyone can expect from couples therapy:
The therapist will begin the process by getting to know you and your partner. He or she will also try to gain an understanding of each of your perspectives on the issues affecting your relationship. Do not expect your therapist to take a side and tell you which one of you is right. Instead, the therapist should seek to understand both partners so that each of you gets what you want from the relationship and from therapy. You will discuss your goals for therapy, and the therapist will ask questions to assess the problems affecting your relationship and evaluate the strengths each of you brings into the partnership.
All couples therapists are accountable to a professional code of ethics, which states that they cannot share confidential information without your permission. However, confidentiality with couples is complicated as therapists differ on their preferences regarding secrets between partners, especially if “the couple” is considered the client. Many therapists believe that some secrets (like an affair, for example) can be detrimental to the therapy process. They are likely to terminate therapy, or work with you each separately, until the secret is shared between partners. Other therapists will ask you to sign a release stating that there will be no secrets between partners in therapy. Still others will keep secrets from partners. As confidentiality is a matter of preference, you should ask your therapist about his or her approach to secrets between partners.
All couples experience conflict. In order to resolve conflict, partners must be able to communicate their thoughts and feelings effectively. The therapist might begin the process of therapy by teaching you and your partner how to talk to one another respectfully and how to listen to one another with compassion. As you develop these skills, the therapist will often act as a referee, helping you practice these new skills, while protecting each of you from harmful words and loud voices.
Due to past hurts, the passing of time, and the stressors of daily life, partners may forget why they fell in love. The therapist might encourage you to think about what you appreciate about your partner or to notice the times your partner does something special for you. The therapist might even prompt you to have a regular date night. As your friendship with your partner strengthens, it is likely that this fondness and appreciation will make it easier for you to handle minor conflicts effectively, and to strengthen your commitment to the relationship will too.