April 24, 2023

Live in the shelter of each other: Knowing What to Expect in Couples Counseling

By Rebekah Todd

So you’ve thought about suggesting couple’s counseling to your partner, but the idea of starting is a bit scary. Maybe you have noticed that you and your partner continue to bump up against things that leave both of you feeling frustrated and unheard. Or maybe you have noticed feeling confused by your partner and their response to you. Ultimately, the decision to start couple’s therapy is one you’ll make together, but there are a few things that might serve as helpful notes as you consider the process.

First Session Jitters

Here you are; you’ve both made it to the couch and you’re across from your new therapist…so what now?

Most likely, your therapist will try and hear from both members of the couple to get a feel for what patterns and habits the two of you have gotten into over the duration of your relationship. Sometimes, clarifying and finding out your “pattern” as a couple might take several sessions. Once established, together you will feel out what might be a good goal for you both.

Common goals include, less arguing, more understanding, better communication, improved sex life, or successful co-parenting just to name a few.

Ensuring both individuals are heard and seen

This is one of the main goals of a couple’s counselor! A counselor’s role is to be inquisitive, and reflect what they hear you saying, this way they can see if they’re able to ensure your partner hears you accurately as well. Not every session will be completely balanced in who gets to talk the most, but over the course of many sessions, the goal is that both partners have time to talk through how they feel about the main issues and frustrations in the relationship.

One cool part of couple’s therapy that you’ll find most counselors do is they will likely meet with each member of the couple individually once, typically towards the beginning of treatment. Counselor’s who employ the popular couple’s based Emotion Focused therapy (EFT), will likely make the individual meetings the second and third sessions. In those sessions, you’ll find that the therapist seeks to really hear how you interpret the relationship, and learn more about your background and upbringing.

Early relationships

Knowing what your early relationships were like is often a helpful part of the couple’s treatment process.

Attachment theory comes up frequently with couples. In short, attachments are formed in childhood to a caregiver. If that attachment bond is developed in a loving and secure environment, a child will grow to find themselves able to form healthy relationships, with a “secure” attachment style. How you were tended to as a child can impact how you treat your partner now.

Your attachment style brings important insight

When a child forms an anxious or avoidant attachment to a caregiver, these can flow over into adult relationships.

Anxious attachment stems from a child being unsure if they would receive the support and connection from their parents that they need. In adult relationships, this might look like seeking approval from the other, having a strong fear of abandonment, clinginess, or having high demands of the other partner.

A child forms an avoidant attachment with a caregiver when their parent avoids intimacy or distances themselves from the emotional needs of the child. In adult romantic relationships, this might look like hyper-independence, lack of desire to share emotions, or even frustration with another person needing or relying on them.

This is just a brief overview, but even still, you might be able to pick out your own or your partner’s styles within those behaviors. These behaviors often show up in the presenting frustration that couple’s bring to therapy. Understanding your attachment style can help as you process with your therapist how you give and receive love, ways you feel safe and fulfilled, and ways you feel alone and exasperated.

The dance of couple’s therapy

Founder of EFT, Sue Johnson says, “No one can dance with a partner and not touch each other’s raw spots. We must know what these raw spots are and be able to speak about them in a way that pulls our partner closer to us.”

In couple’s therapy you will learn how to find those spots, within each other, and find ways that empower you to address them with care for each other.

Reach out

There’s a Celtic proverb that says, “We live in the shelter of each other,” and I believe that in therapy, couple’s can learn to shelter each other from the pains of the world.

If this sounds like something you and your partner could benefit from, reach out and schedule your first session today.




Written By

Rebekah Todd

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