Updated: May 7
Couples don't come to therapy when things are just a little bit bad. In most cases, by the time a couple comes to therapy, things are usually quite nuclear. One of the first questions I ask each person in the first session is, “on a scale of one to ten, how far out the door are you?” I am yet to hear an answer of anything less than an eight. What separates the couples that make it versus the ones that don’t, is their willingness to equally commit to the counselling process. After helping countless couples come back from the brink of separation, the following are some insights that will help you if you are considering finding someone to help save your relationship.
For couples’ therapy to have any chance of being successful, both people have to be equally committed. Working with couples where one or both partners are ‘half in half out’ is not impossible, but it is extremely difficult to make progress. The couples I typically see turn things around are the ones where both agree to just go all in and give it one more go. If at the end of a few sessions and after trying all the suggested things nothing has worked, at least they can separate knowing they did everything they could.
Sometimes in therapy, couples discover their differences are just too great, they have become different people and too much damage has been done. Sometimes, the therapy process is about providing the safe space and the silence for couples to realise this. It is important to acknowledge that couples’ counsellors don’t possess magic wands that can wave away years or decades of relationship difficulty with a flourish. Although we all wish we could!
If you want to get the same results from your relationship just keep doing the same thing. If you want things to change you have to do different things differently.
The couples that come back from the cliff edge, are the ones that are willing to decide to forgive each other for past frustrations and failings and make a blanket agreement to let go of resentment and hostility. They agree to draw a line in the sand and focus on the future. Most importantly, the ones that really make it and do well long-term are the ones that practice outside of the session all of the strategies and tools that are given to them. They work hard to incorporate the new communication strategies into their lives. Whenever I see couples coming to the second and third sessions armed with notepads, pens and the printouts I have given them, I smile knowing they are going to make it. The couples that do nothing outside of sessions usually end up breaking up. If you want to get the same results from your relationship just keep doing the same thing. However, if you want things to change you have to do different things differently. It's that simple.
No matter how bad things are, there is always hope. If you've taken the time to find a therapist, book the appointment, get the kids looked after and show up, then there is that glimmer. If you were really so close to walking away or, had made the decision to walk away, you certainly would not be coming to counselling. So, every time I see a couple of walking through the door together, even though they might be fighting furiously and hating each other, the fact that they are there together, signals there is enough desire to want fix things. Often, pointing this out to couples is the beginning. It takes two people to create a relationship, two people derail one, and two people to rebuild one.
So before you make an appointment to see a couples counsellor, have a conversation about whether you are both prepared to push all your chips to the middle of the table and go all in for one last hand. The stakes are high but so is the payout.