What To Expect On Your First Day In Couples' Therapy, According To Therapists
Thinking about couples' therapy? Whether the two of you are having a rough patch in your relationship or you simply want to prioritize growing as a couple, everyone has different reasons and intentions behind going to couples' therapy for the first time. Here's what to expect in your first session, according to couples' therapists themselves.
What happens at couples' therapy.
While every couple will have specific goals or issues they're looking to work on, the objective of the therapist is to facilitate communication, honesty, and healing between them.
"A therapist knows how to help couples get to the real trouble [at the heart of the issue] and can teach skills or appropriate referrals to help them through it," marriage therapist Linda Carroll M.S., LMFT, explains. Those skills include honesty, how to express emotional needs, and how to settle disagreements, for example.
"Couples often come to get help with attachment injuries, growing apart, wanting more sexual connection, and needing to relate to one another differently," licensed marriage and family therapist Lexx Brown-James, Ph.D., LMFT, tells mbg.
"The main issue people always come in for is communication; I don't find that to be necessarily true, though," she adds. "A lot of the time, people understand what the other is saying; they're just not honest in what they are communicating."
What happens on the first day of couples' therapy?
Like one-on-one therapy, the first day of couples' therapy will just scratch the surface of why you're there. The therapist will ask questions to get to know you, understand what your priorities are, and lay out goals for your sessions and relationship.
"First session, I always ask about a couple's origin story. How did they begin? What got their attention, and what made them say yes to being in a relationship?" Brown-James explains. "I also want to know what the other significant relationships in their lives are and, of course, what brings them into session now. Lastly, I ask for what they hope to accomplish in therapy."
It's also the time for you, your partner, and the therapist to determine whether that therapist is right for the two of you.
Will the therapist "pick sides"?
According to Brown-James, they really shouldn't—but it does happen. "Ideally not," she says. However, "we are human, and we do have our own biases and triggers, so there are times that therapists do pick sides." But, aside from cases regarding abuse, Brown-James does make a concerted effort to stay as unbiased as possible, "because my job is take care of the relationship between the people in front of me."
She goes on to say that picking sides can not only cause a rift in the relationship between the two people, but it can also put them off of therapy in the future.
Does couples' therapy actually work?
It comes down to how you would define "work."
"Most people might define success as whether you stay together, but we all know that staying together doesn't necessarily define success," licensed marriage and family therapist Ian Hoge, LMFT, previously told mbg.
While some research does suggest couples' therapy can ease individual and couples' distress1, other studies have shown mixed results, suggesting some couples can still run into old problems2. Hoge says knowing when to break up is an integral part of couples' therapy: "Some couples come to therapy and learn how to be better partners to each other and choose to stay together. Some come to therapy and realize they don't want to be together anymore. A therapist is there to help you discover the best choice for you and your partner."
Whether it's short term or long term, the couples' therapy is "working" if it's helping you overcome unhealthy relationship patterns, communicate more effectively, and perhaps find clarity in the relationship—even if that means deciding you might need to break up.
The bottom line.
All in all, Brown-James says she views a successful session as simply one "where the needle toward intimacy shifts a little more toward 'closer.'"
Couples' therapy can be a great option for couples with any number of goals or problems. If you're considering it, the only way you can know it's right for you and your partner is to give it a shot with a little patience and an open mind.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.