If your summer holiday fell short of expectations in terms of rekindling love, connection or sex, you’re not alone. This is a time when couple therapists often see a lot of people wanting to start working on their relationship.
Sadly, high expectations that a summer holiday will be a chance to reset a relationship (see this article) can sometimes be dashed. This is not at all unusual, and rather than focusing on the failure to rebuild a relationship, it can be helpful to see this as an opportunity.
Many couples, indeed most couples, tend to quite naturally put off embarking on couple therapy for months or years, hoping that things will naturally improve. For others, it’s simply that busy lives get in the way, and act as a barrier to starting couple therapy or a distraction from the underlying problems.
Getting started in couple therapy is in itself a way of making a new commitment to each other. It might sound like a low bar, but simply turning up and making time for each other is a really important first step and can involve sacrificing work or social time, or time with children. While it’s perfectly possible to work online, a neutral space in a room with a therapist is usually a better way, away from the environments where the problems are acted out.
The only conversations you really need to have with each other before embarking on couple therapy are when you can both attend regularly, and that you both are prepared to do it. You might find it helpful to talk together about the issues you’d like to work on, but for many couples even those conversations can be hard to have, so you can if you wish leave them for the first session with the therapist.
Often it’s one partner who initiates the therapy, tends to drive it and is more likely to be the one who expresses the problems which need addressing. The other partner may say that they think things are not too bad. It’s my job to gradually start to redress this, allowing a safe space for both partners to start to find their voices.
Blame is sometimes a feature of early sessions, with each, or one of the partners, seeing the other as the problem; the one who needs to change. Again, this is natural, and those feelings should not be dismissed and need to be aired. However at some point, if change is going to happen, it’s when both partners start to recognise their part in the difficulties and take individual and joint ownership for what they want to change.
Couple therapy can demanding. While the environment with a couple therapist should be a safe place, this means difficult things, including stuff that has been held back, can and should be raised. Sometimes this can stir up powerful feelings which can be unsettling in the first few sessions. However over time, a different tone tends to emerge, which allows a more thoughtful conversation about how couples can improve their lives, and those of the whole family.