Couples therapy works – it really can. I’ve watched marriages turn around in miraculous ways through therapy. And, it’s way cheaper than divorce. With that said, it can still be time-consuming and expensive. If you are investing in couples therapy to change some unhealthy dynamics in your relationship, it takes time, money and energy. I’m very sensitive to this investment when couples come to my office. I’m very aware of the time they are taking away from their jobs, their kids and their busy lives to improve or save their marriage. I’m aware that they could have used that money on a fun weekend at the beach instead of talking about painfully difficult topics in an office with me and their partner without their smartphones for distraction. I’m well aware that you may prefer to get a root canal than come to couples therapy. Don’t worry, I’m not offended.
So, if you are going to take the time, invest the money, and expend the energy, then give yourself the best chance for success. Don’t fall into the trap of waiting for the one hour, every week or so, with your couples therapist to tackle the large task of saving your marriage. This would be like going to a personal trainer once a week with a goal of losing 50 pounds, but not being willing to exercise or eat healthy the other six days a week. There is only so much a trainer can do if you aren’t willing to do a few things on your end, too. If you are starting or thinking about starting couples therapy, in addition to finding a therapist that specializes in couples therapy (seriously, don’t just go to any therapist, make sure they have specialized training in couples therapy), do these four things, too:
1) Have daily face-to-face contact. Don’t be this couple. Me (at the beginning of session): “How has your week been?” Wife: “Ummm…fine really. I mean we’ve been busy, we’ve barely seen each other.” Husband: “Yeah, we haven’t really talked since the last session.”
Healthy couples connect every single day. All 365 of them. And, they have crazy, demanding jobs and kids who need chauffeuring every second of the day, too. I’m not talking about a two-hour heart-to-heart over candlelight. Sometimes, connection is as small as passing each other in the hallway at 6am on the way to make the kids’ lunches for school and giving each other a high-five. Something to say “we are in this together.”
If your marriage is starting to fall apart, start today. Ten minutes of face-to-face time (yes FaceTime will do just fine if you are out of town) everyday.
2) Find fun or neutral activities to do together. Things may be dire in your marriage and the thought of having “fun” seems like a tall order. You may even think you don’t share any of the same ideas of what is fun. That is fine. Neutral is absolutely fine. Do something neutral together. Go to a movie, take a walk in silence, take a Sunday drive through a pretty neighborhood. Really, it’s just doing something at the same time that preferably doesn’t require a yard tool or kitchen appliance. Once or twice a month, please. Preferably weekly.
3) Try physical touch. Start small. A morning hug, a good night kiss, cuddle on the couch – heck, if you watch TV at night in different rooms right now, just try moving to the same room a few nights a week. If you really want to blow this out of the water, try holding hands while you catch an episode of Modern Family.
If sex or intimacy is an issue, that’s okay. Don’t force anything in terms of sex, especially if there has been infidelity or trust issues. But do say to your partner “I’m not ready for that yet, I’m hoping to get there with our couples therapy.”
4) Find a designated place to talk. You are likely coming to couples therapy because your communication is less than stellar. You may even be in the camp where you are avoiding difficult topics altogether. Find a “safe zone” in your home. Somewhere different than where you usually talk about difficult things, maybe a back porch swing or even that sitting room in the front of the house no one ever uses. Make this space your place to talk about the things that come up in therapy. Keep the conversation going outside of sessions.
You may be thinking, “man…if we did all of this, we probably wouldn’t even need couples therapy!” Ding, ding, ding…you may be absolutely right.
I can help you change your marriage, but I can’t make you prioritize your marriage. That part is up to you. But, if you choose to prioritize your marriage and you let a couples therapist help you change it…holy smokes y’all, good things can happen. Even miraculous ones.