Relationships

How to get the most out of couples therapy

©iStockphoto.com/Miodrag GAJIC Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©iStockphoto.com/Miodrag GAJIC

Relationships

How to get the most out of couples therapy

Relationships can be fraught with all sorts of problems, and in some cases there will be issues that seem impossible to sort out without a little outside help.

While couple therapy has become increasingly popular and less taboo there are still those who are skeptical of the process or who just feel uncomfortable airing their dirty laundry to others.

In order for a couple to get the most out of therapy it's important to have the right attitude or at least be willing to try.

We asked Lori Dennis, a Toronto-based psychotherapist, to share some ways that couples can get the most out of their time with a professional counsellor or therapist.

1. Try to get both partners involved
According to Dennis, having one partner not on board for therapy happens more often than not. If you're having trouble getting your other half to attend therapy with you, she suggests getting him or her to take part on just a limited basis to start. Even if your partner chooses not to take part, sitting down and doing your own work with a therapist is a step in the right direction for a couple.

"By one partner doing their own emotional work it shifts the relationship because a relationship is a dynamic," Dennis explains. "So when I do some changing, my partner has to shift as a result. Not because I'm forcing him to, but because I'm changing boundaries or changing the way I relate. So naturally speaking, there has to be a shift."

2. Try not to place blame
When there is conflict in a relationship it is very rarely just one person's fault. "I think it's really important to go into therapy with the attitude that both parties have some responsibility to make this work or not make it work," says Dennis.

"Each person has to look at how they're contributing to this dynamic," she explains. "You're not coming in to tell on your partner, reprimand him or make him the bad guy -- because that's never going to work. It's only going to create more defenses and it's only going to build a bigger wall between the two of you."

Page 1 of 2 -- Dennis reveals the number one ingredient for success in couples therapy on page 2.
3. Be patient and know that this will take time
All relationships can be hard work, but fixing a broken one is even harder. There is no quick fix and showing up for a therapy session will not mend your problems overnight.

"It's important to go into therapy knowing that no one is waving a magic wand and nobody is going to make this all better really quickly," says Dennis.

"I think relationships are the hardest work we ever do, and when people think that it shouldn't be hard work it's an illusion that gets them into trouble," she explains. "It's really when that hard work is about to get done that the growth will take place, but people often just don't want to do it."

4. Don't feel bad about asking for help
While the idea of seeking professional help with a therapist does not carry the stigma it used to, some people still consider attending therapy a sign of defeat. In reality, it takes a great deal of courage to ask for help. No matter how smart we are, we may still need a hand sorting out our emotions and any problems in our relationships.

"When it comes to our very unconscious patterns of behaviour, it's not about intelligence, it's about being able to bring these behavioural patterns to the surface -- and that requires a lot more than just intelligence," says Dennis.

It's difficult to spot your own behavioural issues and correct them, she explains. Seeking help from an objective and trained professional is the best way to do so.

5. Make sure you are with the right therapist
Having the right therapist is absolutely key to getting the most out of your therapy, says Dennis. Of course you'll want to check your therapist's credentials, but it's also important that both you and your partner feel comfortable with the person who is supposed to help you.

"I think the number 1 ingredient for success is to click with the therapist," she says. "If you don't have that fit, you don't have the trust, comfort level or safety level and then you can't really do the work as effectively."

Therapy is a great way to get an unbiased perspective on a troubled relationship, and it should be taken one day at time. According to Dennis, conflict is a necessary part of any relationship, but it's how you and your partner handle the conflict that determines whether your relationship is healthy or not.

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How to get the most out of couples therapy

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