Being a Counseling Client

How Often Should We Come to Couples Counseling?

“How often should we come to couples counseling?”

On every initial phone call with a couple interested in couples counseling, I get asked this same question. I recommend weekly sessions for the first 4-6 weeks, and then re-evaluate after that. That isn’t a requirement, but there are several good reasons to consider doing this when you are wondering how often you should come to couples counseling:

    1. You want your couples therapist to get through the assessment period quickly.

      If you come to couples counseling every two weeks in the beginning, it will feel like it’s taking forever for your couples counselor to really dig in.  A good couples therapist takes the time to really understand each of you and what’s going on from a clinical perspective. And, it’s more complicated than “I yell and he shuts down.” It can take a few sessions, and at the rate of twice a month, this can feel like forever.

    2. You want to get the most out of the momentum of being new and fresh in therapy.

      Sort of like starting a new exercise routine, there can be a great motivation in the beginning of therapy that can really help you set up a strong foundation for how the rest of your couples therapy goes. If you are motivated to get in shape and only go to the gym once a month, you won’t see changes and you won’t feel committed the way that you do if you get a running start to your endeavor.

    3. Coming in less frequently may feel like you are starting over each time.

      While this is less of a concern with a therapist experienced in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, if it’s hard for each of you to remember what you talked about in the previous session, it will be hard for the therapist to help you build on any gains that were made. If so much happens in your life between sessions that you have to update the therapist on several key things before getting started, you are wasting a lot of time and money in giving the therapist a rundown of what they’ve missed in your life. Depending on how good the therapist is in directing traffic, you could be wasting a large portion of your session.

    4. Gains are deeper and more powerful when they can immediately follow from a previous experience.

      Following from the previous reason, if you are able to string your experiences together, you will be getting to the heart of the matter and sticking to it. No more sweeping things under the rug and wondering whether you’ll ever get back to resolving that one issue.

    5. You’ll be able to accurately determine whether to step down to twice a month with a perspective on how it feels to have more frequent visits.

      If stepping down is the right thing for you to do, you’ll want to know how to tell. Being able to compare what kind of progress you made at once a week with twice per month is vital to being able to accurately determine what’s best for you.

    6. My personal belief is that it makes your vulnerable to dropping out prematurely, or adds sessions to the overall number you attend.

      This isn’t backed by research, but I’ve seen it a lot and it makes total sense. Given all of the above, it’s not unreasonable to think that adding barriers to your progress could add sessions, money, and time to your journey in healing a relationship. The majority of the people I’ve seen who drop out of therapy before resolving the things that brought them in were twice per week folks. Not all of them, but enough for me to believe in a correlation. The rest of them took more sessions to graduate.

These questions are great, and they usually come from wanting to know what’s going to make you better, faster. And though money isn’t something that should drive your decisions, it’s really important. From a financial perspective, twice a month seems like it may be better, but the overall cost may be greater when you consider adding sessions and/or losing your momentum and progress in therapy and ultimately dropping out before you have lasting change. That’s probably the biggest danger, and though I can’t make these decisions for you, I’m a firm believer in people having all the info they need to make the best decision for them.

If twice per month therapy is all you can do, it will benefit you to be aware of these issues and watch for them cropping up. Communication with your couples therapist is key. Feeling stagnant in couples therapy, unmotivated, etc. are big red flags that your couples therapist can only address if it’s being talked about.

To have a free half hour consultation with one of our Denver Couples Counselors, book online here.

 

Why Relationship Advice Doesn’t Work

Why Relationship Advice Doesn't WorkWhy Relationship Advice Doesn’t Work

The danger behind being seduced by relationship advice, tips, and tricks.

Don’t you just wish that someone would tell you how to fix relationship problems? How many billions of dollars a year are spent in the self-help section, promising the solution to our most complicated issues? Unfortunately, there are real reasons why relationship advice doesn’t work, and why a good couples therapist would steer clear.

Most normal people assume that fixing relationship problems means first understanding what the problem is and where it came from, which should lead to a solution. How to fix it. Knowing what to do. Making a plan. Do This, Don’t Do That.

Humans Like Easy Answers

We are human, and our brains evolved to solve problems. From building fires to hunting, our survival has hinged on making the outside world better. This is called the Problem Solving Mind. It tries hard to help, the only way it knows how: Logic! Determination! Fix it!

The Problem Solving Mind isn’t great at solving problems that have to do with our emotions and our relationships. It wants to make us believe that it can help, but it actually causes more harm than good. The main job of the Problem Solving Mind is to keep you feeling like you are on the right track. You are going to solve this. This isn’t out of your control. You don’t have to be miserable.

All you need is some quick advice and you’ll be OK. But that’s not true. 

It’s Scary When We Have No Quick Fix Solutions to Relationship Problems

Relationships aren’t like machines that you can take apart and tweak here and there to fix. The only way to solve relationship problems is by working through them, not around them.

Relationships are hard. We don’t have control over how people act, how we react, and whether we could lose each other. The stakes are SO HIGH. We want to get it right, we don’t want to mess things up. We don’t want to have problems, hurt and heartache. No wonder we want quick answers! Who wouldn’t?

When the Problem Solving Mind asks for magic bullets, quick answers, easy tools and instructions on how exactly to fix something, therapists sometimes feel pressure to oblige. We want you to feel hopeful and effective! A good therapist is full of ways to help you, and that may include something you can do right now. But, a good therapist does not dole out relationship advice like french fries at the drive-through. Relationship advice doesn’t work. 

Magic Bullets: Solutions or Quick Tips for Relationships

Magic Bullets are a type of relationship advice that doesn’t work. It may work for a little while, but then they stop working and you are sometimes worse off. Let’s use the Five Love Languages as an example. While the actual ideas in the book aren’t bad, couples routinely come in feeling defeated that they have been doing Acts of Service or saying Words of Affirmation for three months, and for some reason, their partner still doesn’t feel loved enough. What’s the issue?

The tool gets sucked up into the problem itself. The tool starts to feel like it’s not working. It feels forced, it isn’t coming from your experience and you can’t keep it up.

People fall into a bartering system. “I will do what you need if you do what I need. You haven’t done what I need, so I’m not budging.”

Things feel better and different for a while, but the actual core issues aren’t resolved. There isn’t more trust. People don’t feel secure in the relationship.

It starts to feel like your partner is just doing those things because they have to, not because it comes from their spontaneous love and intuition on what would make you happy.

If your partner isn’t doing the thing at all, then it’s evidence that they are terrible.

You blame each other and feel hopeless. 

 

When things fall apart it confirms your original story about why things aren’t working.

“You don’t care about me.”

“You don’t even try.”

“We aren’t compatible.”

“You aren’t capable of sustaining change.”

“Nothing ever pleases you, it’s not enough.”

“You don’t know what you want, because I’m doing this perfectly and you still aren’t happy with us.”

The result? You are back at square one, only now you failed and you guys suck. You feel worse about the relationship.

What Would A Real Couples Therapist Do Instead?

You are trying to climb a mountain as a couple, to the top, where your relationship problems are conquered and you feel trust and security, and love. You are hiring the couples therapist to guide you. You want them to just tell you what to do.

A real guide is not going to stand in the parking lot and say:

Good luck on the way up. Let me tell you, it can get really windy. All you need to do is duck. I know you’ve never climbed this mountain, or any mountain, but if you just duck every time the wind blows, you should be prepared for any and all kinds of obstacles up there. Ice, hunger, low visibility. You’ll be fine. If it doesn’t work, you have yourselves and each other to blame, because that’s a sure-fire solution I’m telling you. But, I’m going to hang back here at the trail head and make sure I can see you through my binoculars! That’s what you pay me for. Good Luck!!

NOPE. You might leave the session feeling like you have a plan. But you will not make it to the top of that mountain.

A good couples therapist would say:

Let’s suit up. It gets really windy, so I’ll be guiding you and taking care of you both. Sometimes I’ll lead the way, and as we go over the terrain and the rock, and get knocked around by the wind, just focus on letting me know how you are doing. I can’t predict exactly what we’ll find, but I can promise you that I’ll help you through whatever we run into and you won’t fall to your death because I’m right there with the rope. As you climb, you’ll get stronger and more confident in your footing, and you’ll start finding your way with all that you’ve experienced and learned. By the time we get to the top, I’ll barely be helping. Until then, we have to meet every unique challenge together.

And then, they’d blaze the trail. Can you see the difference between Magic Bullets and real help? 

As I began writing this, I really just wanted to talk about why Magic Bullets don’t work, but it’s really a deeper thing. It’s about what really makes successful change (experiences) versus what we wish would make successful change (Book Learning). If you find that your Problem Solving Mind is mounting a pretty convincing argument for the easy solution, please do yourself a favor and at least read a good book that won’t set you up for failure: Love Sense by Dr. Sue Johnson, or reach out for a free consultation to get an idea of what having someone climb the mountain with you would feel like.

What Couples Therapists Believe About Relationships

What Couples Therapists Believe
About Relationships
(or at least they should)

What couples therapist believeWhen your relationship isn’t going as it should be, it’s easy to rack your brain with all sorts of interpretations of what is going on, predictions about the future and what will happen, what needs to happen, etc. All of this can be very confusing, leading you to question the relationship itself.

There is a fundamental belief that every couples therapist should have about your relationship.

This is a belief that we share, and it is something that we try to help you cultivate. The belief is that you have a bond. It’s there. You are not fighting because you hate or don’t care about each other, no matter how infuriating each other’s behavior could be, or how distant you feel. If there were no bond, you wouldn’t be working so hard to get through to each other that there’s something threatening this bond.

“But wait, no one is working on this!”

“All we do is fight, how can you say that?”

“I feel ignored. There is no bond.”

This is something that can go against everything your mind says to you when you are fed up, exhausted, angry, sick of it, feeling hopeless, etc. Your bond may be buried under all the things that are going wrong. Your bond may be in danger of being broken if these things don’t get fixed. But, the bottom line is this: You wouldn’t be able to get to each other if there weren’t a bond. No one would get upset about anything. No one would shut down and freeze up in the face of an argument. No one would be bothered by a lack of closeness if there has been a growing distance.

A good couples therapist knows this, and will use this to help you revive your bond. Because it very well could die if it’s not attended to.

If you are having issues in your relationship and there is any notion that you both don’t like what’s going on, then there’s a bond there. You don’t have to wonder about that. You have to believe that it’s there and fight to save it. Don’t waste your energy analyzing whether your partner really loves you, really wants to be with you. That’s like sitting in a sinking ship and debating whether it would have gotten a hole if it were a good ship, without doing anything to fix the hole.

But, my partner had an affair, what do you think about that?

Bonds can be injured, and if your partner is saying to you that they are done and want to pursue a new relationship, you may be in trouble. However, the occurrence of an affair doesn’t mean that your relationship is meaningless and can’t be fixed. We’ve helped couples take a hard look at what was going on and how their relationship became vulnerable to an affair. Couples can heal after a husband or wife has cheated.  We do believe that this is much more likely to happen in therapy, and with a therapist who has the firm belief that there is a bond there, it just needs desperate help.

What Does This Mean?

It means you aren’t going to marriage counseling to see if you have it in you to work things out. You are going so you can see why it’s so hard to try.

You aren’t going to see why you seem to hate each other. You are going so you can find other ways to let your partner know that you aren’t OK with things that threaten your bond. 

It means that there is hope, even if you question that.

It also means that you need to find a marriage counselor that actually believes this. If they aren’t sure that people sitting in front of them really have a bond, they won’t be as likely to have confidence in their own treatment. This is a problem, so seek a couples counselor with real training in couples and marriage therapy. Seriously.

If you are ready to have a complimentary consultation with one of our trained Denver marriage counselors to see if we can help you develop an unshakable belief in your relationship, please call us at (720) 443-1947, or use our contact form to get in touch.

What Will Kill Your Couples Therapy

couples therapy hopefulnessCouples Therapy has a Killer.

A frequent problem we see for couples in our couples therapy practice in Denver is that it’s just so hard to see a way out of something when you are in the midst of it. Most couples wait an average of six years before entering couples therapy, and by this time there are a lot of stories that they really buy into. They feel like this is just the “way it is.” They are convinced that they have tried everything, and they probably have (until they get into couples therapy). The issues that have plagued their relationship have been going on for so long that they just seem like they are dead ends, and the couple may be pondering whether they are actually right for each other, whether they are “falling out of love”, etc.

This is called hopelessness, and we need to see it for what it is. It is an evil, energy sucking, distraction that sits on your shoulder and tells you that you shouldn’t even try. That you don’t have the energy to try. That nothing is going to change in your relationship, it’s not going to work. Hopelessness is a relationship killer for obvious reasons, but did you know that it’s a major barrier to getting effective therapy services?

Couples who are hopeless about their relationship often:

  1. Don’t seek couples therapy, or don’t seek it in time.

  2. Don’t do the internal work necessary to really look at the issues and create change, because they are already checked out.

  3. Unwittingly sabotage the couples therapy or undermine their partner’s attempts to make positive changes by resisting them.

I think the most harmful effect of hopelessness on the relationship is that it becomes the lens through which we see everything. Your current state of feeling about the relationship becomes the filter through which you see all the issues and possible solutions. Like rose-colored glasses, but… not rosy. It’s the relationship is half dead phenomenon.

The trick is that you have to sidestep hopelessness so that it doesn’t rob you of the chance to improve the relationship. This is difficult since you need to see something positive to become hopeful. Unless you kill hopelessness.

It’s easy to just go along with the hopeless thoughts and not question whether they are even true. Many of our thoughts are not true, or at least are not the absolute, undeniable, unchangeable, fully objective truth. In couples therapy, there are a lot of things that challenge your perception of reality, because you are both deepening your experience of each other to create more understanding, connection, and trust. So why not start on that path before couples therapy by working on your hopelessness?

Here’s how to kill hopelessness:

1. Notice it.

Notice that you are having thoughts that things are pointless, or whatever your mind tells you about why this is just not going to work.

 

2. See it for what it is: a thought.

Thoughts are not always true, and even if they are, they aren’t always helpful. Realizing that, strong as they are, they are still just thoughts, can free you a bit to act (such as pursuing couples therapy even if you aren’t sure it will work, instead of using hopelessness as an excuse).

3. Ask yourself what’s scary about letting hopelessness go.

Is it protecting you from trying and getting hurt? From getting your hopes up? From showing that you are hurting?

4. Bring it out into the light of day.

Talk about the hopelessness with your couples therapist. Chances are, your partner is feeling some of that as well, and a good couples therapist knows that it’s there and wants to help you slay it.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but as a couples therapist I just wish that I could kill hopelessness. It’s such a demon. It’s a symptom of the problem, not the predictor of whether the problem is fixable. And we can do a whole lot in spite of hopelessness if we realize that we are caught in its grips and don’t want to let it run the show.

If you are feeling hopeless in your relationship and just aren’t sure about whether couples counseling could help, we invite you to have a free consultation with one of our wonderful couples therapists in Denver (Lakewood) where you can chat about what couples therapy could do for you.

Your Free Therapy Consultation: 5 Ways to Prepare

angry blow upIf you are preparing to have a free therapy consultation, congrats on taking the first step to changing things!

There are 5 important things to consider before your free therapy consultation. A free therapy consultation is a wonderful chance to test drive what it would be like to work with a potential therapist.

But, it isn’t therapy. So, what is it? And how do you squeeze all that you can out of it?

1. Arrive early enough to get yourself a nice beverage and sit for a minute.

This will help you take in the scenery and prepare yourself. You may be a little nervous or excited, and if you don’t give yourself a chance to catch your breath you may find that the consultation is half over before you feel present enough to really do #1 and #2 well. Just sayin’.

2. Come ready to spit out your questions.

A good therapist should welcome questions, and their response style will help you decide if you think the therapist can help you. Ask the things that you are hesitant to ask. Are you worried that the therapist is going to judge you? Are you unsure about how the therapist is going to handle certain things? Ask! You are interviewing the therapist, and this is your chance to speak up and get their take on whatever is bugging you about the prospect of having therapy.

3. Come ready to answer some questions.

A consultation is not a time to go into a deep history of your issues, but it is a time to get a snapshot of what you can expect from therapy. The only way to know what to expect is to have a map of where you want to go, and where you don’t want to go. Be ready to answer questions about what you want to get out of counseling, what you DON’T want to get out of counseling, and what is going to happen if counseling doesn’t work. Not only will this help you clarify these things for yourself, it will help you and your therapist talk about your fears and expectations about the process. This will get you off to a running start in your work together.

4. Think about whether you like the therapist as a person.

It’s most important that you feel comfortable with the professional that you have chosen. Research shows that your relationship and how much you just genuinely like the therapist accounts for the majority of your progress in therapy. This is more important than their skills, their particular type of degree, etc. While it doesn’t mean that these things are unimportant, it does mean that your number one task is tuning in to your gut and seeing if this person could be a good fit for you. Any good therapist would agree and say that if you aren’t comfortable with them they would be happy to help you find someone with whom you are comfortable. And definitely choose a therapist that everyone is OK with if you are coming in as a couple/family.

5. Bring your calendar/schedule so that you can book your first session right there, if you are ready.

There is a good chance that if you leave without booking that session, it’s not going to happen. Maybe you don’t want to, but if you do intend to work with the therapist book it. Don’t let the momentum of the consultation be wasted by letting life get in the way (again) and leave you in the same place six months from now – needing to go see a therapist instead of happily living a different life. You won’t be pressured to book at the time, but experience tells me that getting that first session booked is the best way to safeguard yourself from getting derailed.

If you are struggling with relationships and are looking for a way to experience more love, understanding, and respect, contact us to set up a free therapy consultation in Denver or Lakewood today. We can look at what your options are and help you unlock the kind of life you really want.