Couples Therapy Primer–What NOT to Do

Every now and again I do a quick and dirty what to expect from Marriage counseling. Usually, it’s a what-to-expect kind of column to help newbies get more out of the experience. I like to keep things positive and focus on the best ways to access new skills. However, there  are a few things that can really derail your progress in my therapy room. So this time, I’m going to give you a what-not- to-do column.

1) She likes me, she really likes me:  It’s only human to want your therapist to like you best. Seriously, you’re in there pouring your souls out to a person you’ve hired to make your life better. Who wouldn’t want that person to be you cheerleader #1? But, couples hire therapists to be on the side of the relationship. So, if your therapist is challenging you about some aspect of the way you participate in coupledom it’s not because she hates you. It’s because she sees how you can make this strange beast–the relationship–even better, and she wants to help you hold up your end of the bargain. Give good feedback to your therapist and your partner about how the experience of processing your part of the couples conundrum is feeling for you. If the therapist starts to bring up feelings similar to the ones you feel with your partner, then take that opportunity to get to the bottom of how those emotions come up in you, and how you can work with your partner to address them successfully.

2) The truth, the whole truth, and nothin’ but the truth: Sometimes couples therapy doesn’t happen soon enough, or the problems are grevious enough that the relationship falls apart anyway. But, as a therapist, what really roasts my chestnuts is when folks come in to drop their partners off with me. They make a drive-by pass at couples therapy so they can say they tried it, and ultimately really want to make sure their partner has someone to fall back on when they do what they were planning on doing anyway–leaving. If you know you’re undecided about continuing on in the partnership, let your therapist know so that she can talk with you and your partner honestly about how difficult and heartbreaking that limbo experience must be.

3) Keep it in your pants: Many therapists will keep secrets for clients who are carrying on affairs behind their partners’ backs. I have a strict policy against this. Therapy is a great vehicle for working out issues of infidelity and finding healing for both the person who stepped outside the union and the betrayed partner. However, this can only happen if everyone knows that the infidelity has occurred. If you come to therapy and haven’t yet told your spouse, I will be glad to work with you towards doing that in a sensitive way. However, I will not help you continue to lie to your partner.

4) A bushel and a peck: My couples clients know that I usually take a backwards in approach. Rather than working on the really big issues first (which will be there anyway, I promise) I usually start with figuring out how communication has broken down, and give assignments to work on this. I once heard this described as looking at the tree rather than focusing on the fruit.

5) Do your homework: I give clients homework between sessions to build a bridge between meetings and keep the fires of learning stoked. If you’re cooking, you don’t turn on the stove and then turn it off…and then turn it on…and then turn it off. I assume that if we have stirred up difficult emotions during session, that it is in your best interests to continue to work through these collaboratively outside of session as well. Just coming in once a week for an hour-long conversation is not enough. Believe me,  I am helping you have a shorter, more cost-effective course of therapy this way. I ask clients to email me their homework before session so that I can have a chance to read and reflect upon it before we meet again. This way, I will have a bridge between sessions too, and be ready to hit the ground running with the progress you have made when we’re not together.

So, there you have it–a cheat sheet for getting the most out of your couples counselor. Good luck!

Your Partner in Healing,


If you would like to take advantage of a FREE 30-minute consultation to see how therapy can improve your life, just drop me a line at or call (407)-913-4988.

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