Your First Couples Counseling Session: What to Expect

Posted by on Jan 30, 2021 in Couples Counseling | Comments Off on Your First Couples Counseling Session: What to Expect

There’s a lot of research that shows couples who are in distress wait, on average, seven years before reaching out for help. That’s a long time to put off getting professional support. In the meantime, the hurt feelings, unproductive arguments, and emotional detachment pile up. When I meet with people for their first couples counseling session, they are often anxious and uncertain about what to expect. This applies regardless of their background, whether they are married or dating, their sexual orientation, etc.  

When Partners Have Differing Viewpoints

Oftentimes during the first couples counseling session, one partner is pretty disgruntled. I may see them rolling their eyes or express exasperation when the other partner is speaking. I can hear the hurt that they feel inside. The dialogue could look something like this:

  • “I don’t know why we are here,” says the first partner.
  • Meanwhile, the other partner is in a state of distress. They are telling me “I’ll do anything, please help us!”  
  • “You’ll do anything huh? Why now? I have been asking for changes for years.” 

 As a couples therapist, there’s a lot that I do during that first session. However, one of the most important things that I can do is to give people hope. Here’s how it works.

Whose fault is it anyway?

Virtually everyone who comes to couples therapy wants, in some way, for me to say that the problems are the other person’s fault. I explain that, when it comes to relationships, it goes both ways. You have each played a role in where you are now, and it will take both of you making changes to get to a better place.

Sometimes one partner feels they have already tried everything, so how will this help their situation? The truth is that therapy can work, but the focus is less on getting your partner to change and more about addressing your own contributions to the relationship. You are the only thing that you can control.

Can You Help Us?

Oftentimes, couples are desperate when they ask me, “Can you help us?” I explain that I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t predict the future. Still, people do come to me with really severe struggles and, after therapy, go on to patch things up. They go on to have a stronger relationship. On the other hand, some couples come to therapy with seemingly minor issues. But they eventually wind up separating.  

Even though I can’t predict the future, in the first session, there are a couple of factors that let me know which couples are most likely to be successful.

  1. Both partners want to be in the relationship.
  2. Both partners are open to making changes.

Generally, couples who have these pieces in place within the first session or two do pretty well in couples counseling regardless of how severe their problems are.

My Role as a Couples Counselor

The last way I give couples hope is to let them know that I am an expert in relationships. My job is to teach couples how to communicate and connect with one another in healthy and productive ways. But there’s much more to it than that. I also have to provide a safe space for a couple to discuss difficult issues. I then engage two people at the same time without taking sides. In addition, I am responsible for making sure that couples don’t slip into destructive behaviors during sessions. Doing all of these things at once isn’t easy. This is why it is so important that couples find a therapist who is an expert in working with couples.

It’s okay if you are struggling. When you come to your first couples counseling session, you don’t have to have all of the answers. If you come away from your first couples session feeling a bit more hopeful that things will get better, then it was a success.

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