Jan 20 2008

What happens in the beginning of couples therapy?

A lot happens in the very beginning of couples therapy. I ask questions about why the couple is consulting with me, explain how I typically work, and then get started with the problem solving process. Most couples want to start with improving the way they communicate…

Learning to communicate better is a good place to start. Once a couple begins to talk with each other more comfortably and effectively, they can address problems on their own and therapy moves more quickly.

I help the couple learn and practice some of the basics about speaking and listening. There really is an art form to this process.

When speaking to a wife, husband or partner, it is important to use “I” statements. This means focusing mainly on what you think, feel and want in the relationship.

Here are some examples of this:

Speaker: I think the recent holiday visit with your family was hard for me. There were a lot of things going on and I don’t think I managed the demands very well. I think your mother noticed that I wasn’t feeling very good and maybe that made her feel uncomfortable too.

Listener: So, the visit with my family was hard for you and you weren’t feeling well…

Speaker: Yes, when I think back on it, I feel sad that I couldn’t be there more for you and your family. I guess I get overwhelmed easily in those types of situations and check out.

Listener: I understand that you felt sad and overwhelmed back then. I could see that was happening for you. It was a pretty tense situation, so it is understandable that you would have a difficult time. Anyone would have had trouble feeling comfortable and knowing what to do and say.
Speaker: I really want to handle those situations better, so I can be more supportive to you and feel comfortable myself with your family.

Listener: I hear you that you want to do better in those situations. How can I be helpful to you?

The speaker uses “I” statements and focuses on themselves…what they think, feel and want.

The listener reflects back to the speaker in a caring, but non-defensive manner. They show empathy, understanding and validation for the speaker’s feelings.

Working on these issues early in therapy is really essential to make any progress. I like to tell couples that if they can master this method of talking with each other, particularly when things get stressful, things can get better quickly.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “What happens in the beginning of couples therapy?”

  1. Thomas Mosicaon 01 Feb 2008 at 4:54 pm

    me and my fiance have had our share of difficultiesin the past, we have overcome quite a lot together.she recently gave birth to our firstborn son. we were very happy and worked together very well during the pregnancy. after she had our boy things went south pretty quickly. l feel like she is not able to comunicate with me without being hostile and often times abusive. she is often irrational and moody. i know there is a lot going on hormonally right now and i realize this is not an easy time for any couple i just want to get to a place where we can talk to one another without fighting. we try to never fight in front of our boy. i desperately want to get our relationship back on track. please let me know if you what the next step would be on the road to getting the help we so desperately need.

  2. Billon 02 Feb 2008 at 9:00 am


    The most important thing I heard was that you and your fiance have worked through many issues in the past. You must have a strong relationship and dedication to each other to do this.

    The stress you are both experiencing right now may be a message that it’s time to do some work to strengthen your relationship even more.

    Have you tried counseling before? If so, now may be a good time to do it again.

    If I were working with you, I would help you slow things down, remember the strengths of your relationship, why you are together in the first place, and then start to do some problem-solving.
    It sounds like you have the type of relationship where you have been there for each other, so maybe it’s time to take it to the next level of support and caring.

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