Starting couple counseling brings many questions and concerns. Dr. Ripley answers common questions about starting Hope Focused Couple Counseling
Will Hope Focused Couple Counseling be a negative experience?
No. Not if we are all doing this right. While either partner can "blow up" a session with negativity, and difficult things in life can be discussed, the process should involve experimenting with new ways of relating. The therapist is there to stop negative patterns from blowing up, and redirect conversations to more productive work. The old ways you have been relating aren't working for you to be a team. Hope counseling will create new ways to relate, and that can be kind of fun.
Will my partner change?
Yes, and No. The goal of couple counseling is for the relationship to change. If you think the relationship can change without any change from either partner, that seems unrealistic. What I like to see in couples seeking counseling is a willingness to try new things out of their love for each other and commitment to their marriage or relationship.
We are so defensive, how can that change?
It takes love and courage to let down your guard and work together to become a team. Any sports team that undermines, criticizes, ignores, and harms each other won't last for long. If you are caught in that cycle, you are very aware of how painful and difficult it is to continue to live in a defensive posture in your relationship. What a couple has as their secret weapon is something few sports teams have- love. Hope-focused couple counseling offers you the potential you can transform your relationship through:
Love for each other fuels the courage you need to try and change. A mama bear will be courageous to protect her cubs because she loves them. A couple that loves each other can be courageous to protect their relationship. We have witnessed couples repair relationships that were deeply damaged out of their deeper love.
Work towards improvement. Relationships take work. If things have been going poorly for a while, both partners have likely stopped putting work into the relationship to improve it. Or perhaps the work hasn't been effective. A couple counselor can help you work in ways that are effective for your relationship improvement.
Faith in a Higher Power, each other, and your counselor. Many people believe that their relationship is sacred, or ordained by God. Looking to God or a higher power to improve your relationship can be helpful through prayer, or spiritual practices. Having faith that you and your partner will show up for couple counseling and relationship improvement activities at home changes your relationship. And finally having faith that your counselor is skilled and caring towards you is an effective ingredient for change.
Are there situations where couple counseling isn't a good idea?
Any couple counselor would recommend individual counseling first if there is domestic violence, current infidelity, severe psychopathology that needs to be stabilized first, or current substance abuse. If a person is in a dating-only relationship that is going poorly, we recommend individual counseling. There may be other situations where individual needs take precedence, even if the pain is felt largely in the relationship.
The goal of individual counseling is to help that one person (or both if both are facing these issues) orient towards growth and health first, understand why the problem is happening, and begin treatment to address the problem. Sometimes their partner needs some understanding of the problem too so they can be supportive. Then after some weeks or months, then couple counseling can help the couple rebuild a relationship in a more healthy direction together.
One of us is reluctant to start this, what should we do?
In most couples, one person is more interested in couple counseling than the other. This is normal. Perhaps one of you has not experienced counseling before, or had a bad experience. Perhaps one of you has some guilt or shame about how they have acted in the relationship and are concerned they will be blamed. Perhaps one of you is unsure what will happen in counseling. Or perhaps one of you has no hope that the relationship can change.
Your relationship is worth an initial consultation with a couple counselor. In Hope Focused approach
We have an intake period, and then we give feedback on what we see as strengths and areas to focus on in counseling, with a specific plan for change. You will be able to see what you are getting into before you commit. You can step out at that point if it doesn't seem like a good match for you.
Couple therapists will not blame a partner. The goal is to help understand where things went wrong and practice new ways of relating.
Hope-focused approach lasts from 8-15 sessions. It is not a long-term type of couple counseling. And we offer specific information about what will happen in our meetings.
We believe all relationships can improve if both partners are willing to work. If you believe things can't change that likely means you are the one who is unwilling to work on things. This is a depressogenic idea, likely to bleed over into other parts of your life feeling helpless, ineffective, and doomed. It's worth a try, for the sake of your relationship. And we would like to partner with you to find hope.