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What to Expect From Your First Couples Therapy Session

Updated: Mar 12

When prospecting for a couples therapy session, it is quite common to feel some level of apprehension. This is normal, considering that you will open up about your relationship with someone who is essentially a stranger. You might be wondering, what to expect with marriage counseling. You might be asking "How will it work? What will we talk about? How much should we share? How will I deal with any discomfort that comes up? What to expect from couples therapy?"

A lot of fear and apprehension can be allayed by simply knowing what to expect at your first couples counseling session. All you need is some information and the right frame of mind, and you will be on your way to reaping the benefits of couples counseling.

From the first step of scheduling an appointment to the very end of the session, read on for a rundown of what you can expect from couples therapy from your first session.

what to expect with marriage counseling

Scheduling an Appointment

The initial step is scheduling an appointment with a couples counselor. You can either do this together with your spouse or independently. Keep in mind you can also take individual therapy sessions about marriage counseling as an option.

Including your partner in this decision can help foster a sense of openness and collaboration from the get-go. It will also set the tone for the rest of the counseling session and show that you are committed to working on the relationship.

When you call to schedule an appointment, you will likely be asked some general questions about your relationship. Our therapists want to ensure that you will be meeting with the best person who fits your needs.

The purpose of these questions is not to probe into your personal life, so you don't need to go into detail. Just give a brief overview of your relationship and why you are seeking therapy. (Read our article about how to email a therapist for the first time)

What to Expect During the First Meeting

The first session will likely last anywhere between an hour or two. Your therapist will start by asking you both to introduce yourselves and share why you are seeking therapy. They will then ask some general questions about your relationship.

After the initial introductions, you’ll be prompted to share more about your relationship history. Some details that are common include how you met, what your early relationship was like, and what major life events have occurred since then.

It’s not necessary to share anything specific in the first session. Just come with an open mind and be prepared to share a bit about yourself and your relationship.

At the end of the session, the therapist will likely give you some homework to do. This might include reading a book or article about relationships or perhaps practicing a specific couples therapy exercise. Any assigned “homework” is designed to help you reflect on your relationship and to shape your thinking in ways that improve it.

The purpose of the first session is to get to know you both as individuals and as a couple. The therapist will assess your communication style, conflict resolution skills, and overall relationship satisfaction. By the end of the session, you should understand what couples therapy will entail and what you can expect in future sessions.

If you think you might be uncomfortable with this arrangement, read our article on "How to Open Up in Therapy: 16 Tips from a Los Angeles Therapist"

what to expect from couples therapy sessions

Address History of Relationship Distress

In subsequent sessions, the therapist will continue assessing your relationship by asking questions to learn more about your history. They will ask about the major conflict points in your relationship and how you have coped with them in the past.

The therapist will also assess your individual emotional needs and how they are or are not being met in the relationship. It is essential to be honest with the therapist and to share as much detail as possible. The more information they have, the better they will be able to help you.

The therapist may also ask about your childhood experiences and how they have impacted your current relationship. They want to understand how your past experiences have shaped how you think about and relate to your partner.

This is a crucial part of the therapeutic process, as it can help to shed light on the root causes of your relationship distress.

Both of you will have an opportunity to share your perspectives on the relationship. Even though it might be challenging to share your intimate thoughts and feelings, it is important to be as open and honest as possible. A therapist can help you more effectively if they clearly understand your situation.

In addition to exploring your past, the therapist will also ask about your current relationship dynamic. They want to understand how you and your partner interact on a day-to-day basis.

This includes exploring the roles you each play in the relationship and how those roles might contribute to the conflict.

Explore Underlying Issues

Once the therapist has a good understanding of your relationship history, they will start to explore the underlying issues that are causing conflict in your relationship. This might involve:

  • exploring attachment styles

  • exploring differences in values or communication styles

  • addressing trust issues

  • working through unresolved conflicts from the past

  • exploring different ways of coping with stress or conflict

  • exploring how your childhood experiences are impacting your current relationship

  • addressing financial issues

  • exploring different ways of relating to each other

The therapist will help you understand the root causes of your relationship conflict and guide how to address them. This might involve learning new communication or conflict resolution skills, or it might require some major changes in your relationship dynamics, such as:

  • setting boundaries

  • establishing new rules or expectations

  • taking a break from each other to work on individual issues

  • committing to change negative patterns of behavior

Each session will build on the previous one, and the therapist will help you to develop actionable goals for improving your relationship. They will teach you new skills and guide you on how to implement them in your everyday life.

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Work Towards Relationship Goals and Timeline

Counseling sessions are guided by your relationship goals. The therapist will help you identify what you want to achieve in therapy and develop a plan to help you reach those goals. It is important to be realistic in setting goals, as it can take time and effort to make significant changes in your relationship. Goals might include:

  • improving communication

  • learning how to resolve conflict

  • increasing intimacy and connection

  • developing new coping skills

  • rebuilding trust

  • increasing commitment

  • addressing individual issues that are impacting the relationship

The therapist will help you to establish a timeline for reaching your goals. This might involve weekly or bi-weekly sessions or be a longer-term process depending on the issues you are addressing. The therapist will guide how to best move forward in achieving your relationship goals.

Take Action and Make Change

The main purpose of couples counseling is to help you make positive changes in your relationship. This means that you will need to be active participants in the therapeutic process. You will be asked to practice new skills and behaviors outside of therapy and to make changes in your day-to-day interactions with each other. It is important to be committed to the process and each other to make lasting changes.

The therapist will provide guidance and support, but it is up to you to put what you learn into action. If you are willing to work hard and make the necessary changes, couples therapy is an effective tool for improving your relationship.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Counseling is a process that takes time. It is important to be patient and to commit to the process to see results.

  2. Counseling requires effort from both partners. You will need to be active participants in the therapeutic process and be willing to make changes in your behavior.

  3. Couples therapy does not have a predetermined number of sessions. The length of therapy will depend on the goals you set and the progress you make.

  4. The therapist is not there to take sides or to tell you what to do. They will provide guidance and support as you work through the issues in your relationship.

  5. Change takes time. Don't expect to see immediate results. It takes time to change patterns of behavior, but if you are committed to the process, you will see gradual improvements over time.

  6. Counseling is not a magic fix. Relationship problems are complex, and there is no easy solution. However, if you are willing to work hard, counseling can help you to improve your relationship.

  7. The barrier to successful counseling is often a lack of motivation or commitment from one or both partners. If you are not both committed to the process, it is unlikely that you will see any results.

  8. You should feel comfortable with your therapist. If you don't feel like you are being heard or if you are not comfortable with the therapist, it will be difficult to make progress in therapy.

  9. It is important to be honest with your therapist. For therapy to be effective, you need to be open and honest about your thoughts and feelings.

  10. You should feel like you are making progress in therapy. If you feel like you are not making any progress, it might be time to consider a different therapist.

Final thoughts…

Couples therapy is not always easy. You might find yourself reliving painful memories, rehashing old arguments, or feeling vulnerable in front of your partner. This is absolutely normal.

However, if you are willing to work through the tough stuff, counseling can be an effective tool for improving your relationship. The therapist will be there to support you and help you through difficult times, but it is up to you to make the necessary changes.

Couples therapy can be a difficult process, but the fruits of your labor can be well worth the effort!

Feel free to contact us anytime with questions about what we do and how we can help.



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