How to get the most out of Couples Therapy

If your marriage is lacking in intimacy, full of conflict, involves you feeling misunderstood, or maybe even all of the above, you already know how overwhelming living this way can be. You may find yourself losing hope that things can change. Perhaps you and your spouse have tried therapy before, but felt the benefits were limited. So maybe you’ve accepted that this is as good as it gets—and that doesn’t feel very good.

Unfortunately, when you approach your marriage with this sense of hopelessness, it only breeds more dissatisfaction and feelings of inadequacy. And chances are your spouse is feeling the same. You find yourself just stuffing your feelings because that’s easier than starting an argument. Then of course there are the times one or both of you lose your cool. ‘Communicating’ turns into yelling or criticizing each other. It can feel easier just to stop trying.

Over time, you’ve found yourselves feeling like you are settling for what your relationship has become. Long gone are the days of imagining your future together or feeling the excitement in your sex life. Instead of feeling like you are building your life together, you feel like you both are just trying to get through the day.

There are many reasons marriages end up in this place. Sometimes a couple never learned how to deal with issues between the two of them. Now the problem feels bigger or impossible to address. Often, the stress and hecticness of work or kids take over. It feels neither of you have enough time or energy to focus on your marriage, even if you wanted to. As the years go by, these patterns creep in and now it feels like they have become a constant.

Luckily, there is a lot that can be done to help you feel reconnected in your marriage. Couples therapy is an important step in committing to creating the change in your marriage that you desire. Even if you’ve tried therapy with your spouse before, there are likely ways you can approach it differently to feel more benefit.

So whether you’ve never been to therapy before, have tried on-and-off throughout the years, or are currently in couples therapy, here are some tips that can help you feel you are getting the most out of couples therapy.

distressed couple sitting away from eachother

Tip number one for getting the most out of couples therapy: Stay on the other side of your “but.”

If you are not sure what I mean by this, I don’t blame you. Let me explain. When entering couples therapy, it’s very natural to make your goal feeling more understood by your spouse. This on its own is a great thing, and certainly a huge part of couples therapy. However, sometimes focusing too much on the desire to be better understood leads to a struggle. A struggle in understanding where your spouse is coming from.

I like to think about this by asking, “how quickly are you getting to your ‘but?’” For example, does it sound like “I know you’ve been very stressed lately but ______. Or “I get that you don’t like when I yell but ______. Maybe, “You say you want to spend more time together but______.” The truth is in all of those examples, if you are able to stay on the part before the ‘but,’ you will be moving in the right direction toward understanding your spouse and strengthening your connection. This may be easier said than done, but approaching therapy with this as a personal goal can help you get the most out of couples therapy.

If you enter couples therapy with the mindset that, “there is something I’m just not understanding about my spouse’s perspective and I’m committed to understanding better,” you are well on your way toward getting the most out of couple’s therapy.

man and woman embracing each other while touching noses with affection

So my first tip is to make having your spouse better understand you be an important, but secondary goal. Instead, challenge yourself to better understand where your spouse is coming from as your primary goal. Imagine if your spouse is doing the same. Couples therapy moves from being about stating differing opinions or airing grievances and moves towards becoming a time each week to hear each other and grow together.

During Couples therapy in Simi Valley, Ca our therapists help both members of a couple learn to be more responsive to the needs of their partner.

Staying present in understanding the thoughts and feelings of your partner is a huge step. It helps you towards staying connected in your relationship. Our therapists work with couples to explore barriers to this process. We do so while also building confidence in being able to respond to each other in healthier ways.

Tip number two for getting the most out of couples therapy: Get ready to get uncomfortable.

When we think about arguing, yelling, and criticizing—none of that sounds particularly comfortable. But too often, by the time a couple starts therapy, this has long been the way they are used to communicating. While none of those options are great, they may have become the most comfortable way to communicate with your spouse. Maybe you’ve avoided topics for fear it will spark an argument. Perhaps you haven’t been truly open about your emotions or insecurities. Couples therapy is a great opportunity to leave your comfort zone and grow in your relationship.

The next tip is to be open to discomfort. The more vulnerable you are with your spouse (and vice versa) the more you will be able to make lasting changes in your relationship. If you are ready for some potentially uncomfortable situations you will feel the growth. Exploring your sex life, communicating your emotions, or listening to feedback without defensiveness, you are ready to get the most out of couples therapy. 

man and woman rolling blue paint onto a white wall

Being vulnerable with your spouse can be one of the most impactful ways to reestablish a connection with each other.

During couples therapy in Simi Valley we help couples learn the value of communicating from a place of vulnerability. Our therapists work with couples to explore emotions, struggles, and hopes for the future.

A big part of couples therapy is exploring how to listen empathetically to your spouse. You also get to experience your spouse doing the same. Learning it is safe to get uncomfortable within the context of therapy can be a great step in feeling more connected in your relationship.   

Tip number three for getting the most out of couples therapy: Make letting go of resentment a goal for your relationship.

Even when a couple truly wants to make changes, years of built up resentment can get in the way. After all, it can be hard to let go of years of arguments and disappointment. But change can be a slow and imperfect process, even when things are moving in the right direction. When a couple is having trouble letting go of resentment, each setback can seem like they are back at square one, and get in the way of acknowledging the positive changes being made.

There are many reasons why it feels difficult to let go of resentment. Sometimes it feels to let go is the same as just ‘forgetting’ past behavior or even excusing it. Instead, the value of learning to let go of resentment is to start exploring what it can feel like to live differently with your spouse. Maybe in a way that you haven’t felt since you first started dating. Or even in a way you may have never felt throughout the course of your relationship. So we don’t have to pretend letting go of resentment is as easy as turning off a light switch. However making it an important goal during the course of couples therapy can help you build the relationship you are looking for.

In Couples Therapy in Simi Valley, Ca we work with couples to recognize the role of resentment in their relationship.

Being able to address this issue can be a huge step in moving forward. At the same time, we work with couples to work through feelings of hesitation or worry. It can be scary to feel you are fully committing to a relationship that has been a struggle. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable with the fear of being let down again. But learning to work through feelings of resentment can help a couple feel they are moving forward.

couple in bed reading articles in front of their faces

Tip number four for getting the most out of couples therapy: Commit to making and noticing small changes.

Usually issues within a couple have built up over time. If you are expecting an immediate 180 degree turn, you are likely to end up disappointed. Sometimes this mindset gets in the way of growing as a couple. Small changes or effort is being made, it can easily be dismissed as “not enough.”

A big part of getting the most out of couples therapy is committing to both making small changes yourself, and noticing small changes both you and your spouse are making. No single change is going to ‘fix’ what feels like it needs to be repaired. So it may be difficult to find small changes as meaningful. 

But it’s really what’s beneath each small change that’s important. 

These changes mean you and your spouse are thinking about each other more. You are recognizing your roles in creating change, and are overall committed to strengthening your relationship. Of course, we can expect setbacks and imperfection. Tuning into the value of each small change can help you feel your relationship is moving toward where you both want it to be.

During couples therapy in Simi Valley, we work with you to explore what changes you are hoping for in your relationship.

We help you visualize together what one step toward these changes can look like. Also ways to notice when they are happening. We help couples make concrete plans for the week in order to feel there are practical ways to incorporate what was discussed during therapy into their everyday lives.

If you are considering starting couples therapy (or online couples therapy), or thinking of trying couples therapy again, I hope these tips help you enter the process in a way that will allow you to get the most out of therapy!

Written by,

John Danial, Ph.D. 

I’m a licensed psychologist in Simi Valley, Ca who encourages children, teens, and families to take the steps and make the changes they need to see real, lasting change in their lives. I specialize in working with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Anxiety, Defiant behaviors, and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and in helping children and adolescents build confidence and strength to live their lives to their true potential. I believe that each child is unique and has the inner strength to fight through their obstacles with the support of their loved ones. So they never have to experience feeling “less than” or being labeled as “different” or “difficult.” Learn more

 Therapy services offered at Simi Psychological Group 

Now Offering Online Therapy in Los Angeles and Online Counseling Ventura County 

At our therapy practice near Thousand Oaks, Ca we offer Child therapy and family counseling, Teen therapy, Anxiety Treatment, Depression Therapy, Marriage Counseling, and Neuropsychological Testing. Couples therapy in Simi Valley, Ca.