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  • Writer's pictureEaston Gaines, MSEd, PsyD

Couples Therapy: What to Expect

When considering conflicts that arise in a relationship, it's helpful to differentiate between solvable and perpetual problems. It's worth noting that most relationship conflict - around 69% - falls into the latter category. Perpetual problems often stem from differences in personalities or lifestyle needs that are fundamental to each individual. These differences can create conflict that resurfaces repeatedly, but it's important to remember that they are a natural part of any relationship.

Are you and your partner facing relationship challenges? Are you looking to strengthen your connection and build a brighter future together? Couples therapy can be a valuable resource for couples of all types and stages of relationships. Whether you're dealing with communication issues, trust concerns, intimacy struggles, or any other challenges, couples therapy can help you work through them and build a stronger, more fulfilling relationship.

But what exactly can you expect from couples therapy? In this blog post, we'll walk you through the process of couples therapy and what you can expect from your sessions with a Level 2 Gottman therapist at MindCare.

Step 1: Assessment Phase

Firstly, we assess. During this phase, your therapist will work with you to better understand your relationship and the challenges you're facing. They may provide written materials for you to complete to help them gain a deeper understanding of your relationship dynamics.

In subsequent sessions, you'll discuss your relationship history, areas of concern, and goals for treatment. Your therapist will also meet with each of you individually to learn your personal histories and give you both an opportunity to share your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.

Step 2: Develop a Treatment Plan

After the assessment phase, your therapist will share their recommendations for treatment and work with you to define mutually agreed-upon goals for your therapy. They'll also discuss the length of therapy, which will be tailored to your specific needs and goals.

Step 3: Couples Sessions

Most of the work you'll do in couples therapy will involve sessions where you'll be seen together as a couple. During these sessions, your therapist will help you address any issues that may be affecting your relationship and teach you new skills to strengthen your connection.

Your therapist will also help you manage both resolvable and perpetual issues and teach you methods to deepen your friendship and intimacy. They may also give you exercises to practice between sessions to help reinforce the skills you're learning.

According to the Gottman Method, there are nine components of thriving relationships. To target these, your therapist may introduce them throughout your work together.

Build Love Maps How well do you know your partner’s inner psychological world, his or her history, worries, stresses, joys, and hopes?
Share Fondness and Admiration The antidote for contempt, this focuses on the amount of affection and respect within a relationship. Sharing respect and appreciation is necessary.
Turn Towards Instead of Away State your needs, be aware of bids for connection and respond to (turn towards) them. The small moments of everyday life are the building blocks of relationship.
The Positive Perspective The presence of a positive approach to problem-solving and the success of repair attempts.
Manage Conflict We say “manage” conflict rather than “resolve” conflict, because relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects. Understand that there is a critical difference in handling perpetual problems and solvable problems.
Make Life Dreams Come True Create an atmosphere that encourages each person to talk honestly about his or her hopes, values, convictions and aspirations.
Create Shared Meaning Understand important visions, narratives, myths, and metaphors about your relationship.
Trust This is the state that occurs when a person knows that his or her partner acts and thinks to maximize that person’s best interests and benefits, not just the partner’s own interests and benefits. In other words, this means, “my partner has my back and is there for me.”
Commitment This means believing (and acting on the belief) that your relationship with this person is completely your lifelong journey, for better or for worse. It implies cherishing your partner’s positive qualities and nurturing gratitude by comparing the partner favorably with real or imagined others, rather than magnifying negative qualities, and nurturing resentment.

Step 4: Individual Sessions

While most of the work in couples therapy is done together, there may be times when individual sessions are recommended. These sessions provide an opportunity for each partner to work on their personal issues and explore how they may be impacting the relationship.

Step 5: Ongoing Evaluation and Follow-Up Sessions

Throughout the course of therapy, your therapist will establish points at which to evaluate your satisfaction and progress. They'll encourage you to raise any questions or concerns you have about therapy at any time.

As you progress through therapy, you may meet less frequently in order to test out new relationship skills and prepare for the eventual termination of therapy. While you may terminate therapy whenever you wish, having at least one session together is recommended to summarize progress, define remaining work, and say goodbye.

Follow-up sessions are also an important part of the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy. Four follow-up sessions are planned: one after six months, one after twelve months, one after eighteen months, and one after two years. These sessions have been shown through research to significantly decrease the chances of relapse into previous, unhelpful patterns and to fine-tune any of your relationship skills if needed.

Couples work can be a valuable resource for couples looking to work through relationship challenges and build a stronger connection. By exploring gently, you and your partner should expect to receive the support and guidance needed to overcome any obstacles and build a brighter future together.

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