Preparing for your first couples therapy session is made easy with these 5 tips.
In this article, you will learn the best tips for how to start couples therapy and what to expect in your first session. This advice is provided by a couples therapist with over a decade of experience.
Tip #1 for Your First Couples Therapy Session: Your Relationship is the Client
When starting couples therapy, it’s natural to feel nervous that the therapist may take your partner’s side. Or won’t understand you.
Yet the role of the therapist in couples therapy is to support your relationship. In other words, neither you nor your partner are the “clients” – rather the client is couples therapy is your relationship.
As such, the therapist’s guidance and advice is designed to support the relationship. This means at times it will feel you are the one being supported. Other times, you may feel that you are in the “hot seat.” This is all done to support the relationship rather than any individual.
This brings us to the next tip.
Tip #2 for Your First Couples Therapy Session: Be Patient
In the beginning – especially in the first session – it’s common to feel like you didn’t get anything “done” in session. This is because the therapist needs time to understand the cycle in which you and your partner communicate that causes problems.
When relationships don’t feel good, it’s because the couple feels “stuck” in a cycle of interacting that isn’t working for them. Your therapist is assessing for your cycle to prepare to give guidance and supports that meets your relationship’s specific needs.
Related: My boyfriend and I keep fighting
Assessing for Your Cycle
For example, maybe one of you shuts down but the other one wants to solve problems immediately? This dynamic between the both of you can lead to a lot of escalation and misunderstanding.
Or maybe you both have the tendency to say things you regret and then sweep things under the rug? This cycle can lead to a lot of resentment because nothing ever gets repaired.
Your couples therapist is working to identify what your personal cycle is together in order to best interrupt it.
Tip #3 for Your First Couples Therapy Session: Appreciate Each Other’s Commitment
While you probably won’t leave the first session feeling like a lot was accomplished, know that you are taking a huge step together.
It’s intimidating to start therapy and painful. It’s vulnerable to admit that your relationship needs outside support. (Yet relationship troubles are incredibly common – all couples go through bumpy times.)
Take time, even in the face of your resentments, to appreciate that you and your partner are committed to being healthy partners for one another. This is the most important step truly to healing your relationship regardless of the concerns.
To that point though, both of you must truly be committed to the process to make it work – you can’t force your partner to be there. Therapy requires genuine effort on each person’s part to change for it to “work.”
Tip #4 for Your First Couples Therapy Session: Communicate with Your Therapist
The more honest you can be with your therapist, the better. Try to share openly about substance abuse for instance because this often can impact how the two of you are interacting.
Also, if you have other mental health diagnoses or are neurodivergent, let your therapist know this as well as this can guide your couples therapy treatment at times.
Related: The Impact of ADHD on Relationships
Of course, it can be hard to discuss abuse or the things you don’t want to acknowledge are really happening in your relationship. You may not be ready to share everything with a new therapist but if you can share things such as being concerned that your fights can get out of control this helps guide treatment.
Tip #5: Identifying if Your Therapist is a Good “Fit”
Finally, it can take time to identify if you feel like your therapist is a good “fit” for you both. But give it a few sessions to truly assess this – it can take this long to start to feel a flow with a therapist.
If you can, communicate with the therapist about your concerns. For example, if you leave sessions feeling worse than you arrived. A couples therapist can support you with these concerns only if you communicate.
Of course, they can’t make couples therapy “easy” but they can, for instance, leave 5 minutes at the end of session to try to end on a positive note.
It’s not easy to be honest that you feel your relationship needs outside support. But all human beings need others’ guidance and support at times.
You are being incredibly wise and doing hard work that many people choose never to do! Many people give up on their relationships – or themselves – without ever being willing to do the hard and vulnerable work of therapy.
While you feel nervous perhaps right now, please know you are taking a brave step in the direction of the life and relationship you truly want!
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About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.
Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.
Her other books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to email@example.com or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.