How To Know If Couples Counseling Will Be “Worth It”
Choosing to begin couples counseling can feel like a weighty decision—because it is. We all arrive where we are through unique journeys. It can be difficult to tell where exactly we are in our processes and whether taking this step is right for us. There are a host of myths we may have been socialized to believe about counseling; there are many reasonable fears and concerns we may bring to the table; and sometimes, it is hard for us to evaluate whether we ourselves are at a place where we can be open to deep learning and growth in a couples counseling setting.
In my experience, I have seen that the sky’s the limit for the work that can be done when partners show up to couples counseling open to doing the work. There’s no one-size-fits-all depiction of what it means to be “ready” for counseling—the concept of being ready, itself, can be limiting—but I have seen time and again that couples who have quite a lot to work through most often find growth when supported by specific commitments and factors. I’d like to share those with you. It is my hope that this evaluation tool can help you think about what you value and how you are showing up for yourself and in relationship, helping you determine whether couples counseling might be “worth it” for you.
A SELF-CHECK: AM I IN A RELATIONSHIP THAT I WANT TO INVEST IN?
Understanding where we are in our processes—and making decisions, such as whether we feel truly willing to begin couples counseling—can come down to one question: Am I in a relationship that I want to invest in?
We often know in our gut if we want to invest or not. This discernment is important; it is an insight into ourselves. It’s this desire to invest that gives us the staying power to tolerate being wrong, to be open to experiencing vulnerability and shame, and to find internal strength as we grow in relationship. And it’s this discernment that helps us determine if that effort makes sense for us in the first place.
Ask yourself the following questions as you evaluate whether your relationship is one that you truly want to invest in. This is a way of answering for yourself: How do I know if couples counseling is, or can be, worth it?
Can you answer the following questions in the affirmative?
- Do I like my partner? (I might love them, but do I like them?)
- Do I want to learn to privilege the “we” over the “me”?
- Do I know myself well enough to represent myself?
- Am I healed enough to include someone else in the messy project of couples work?
- Do I actually want a win for all? (Or am I still invested in a zero-sum game where I’m right and the other person’s wrong?)
- Have I looked closely enough at my own egoic urges, and am I ready to be honest with myself and a partner (beyond just myself and a therapist)?
Can you answer the following questions in the negative?
- Do I have narcissistic or egoic tendencies that might make the work difficult?
- Do I have outstanding addictions or habits that would make the investment fall flat?
- Do I have secrets kept from my partner that I’m not willing to reveal (like addiction or infidelity)?
- Do I hold contempt for my partner (and am I committed to this contempt)?
Practice self-compassion as you answer these questions. It’s possible that you very much want to be at a point in your process where couples therapy is worth it to you, but you know that it’s not quite time. That’s okay! Consider individual work first if that is where you are in your process.
A RELATIONAL CHECK: EVALUATING YOUR OPENNESS TO THE WORK
In my experience, there are many “green flags” that suggest a couple is at a place where couples counseling can catalyze deep growth. When starting with both partners’ feet in the relationship—each self-evaluating whether they do, in fact, want to invest in the relationship—the following factors can indicate that couples therapy will be fruitful.
- Presence of the foundational pillars of love and trust.
- Presence of and openness to growing—emotional honesty.
- Tolerance for rupture and ability to repair.
- Willingness to create a win for all.
- Willingness to be wrong.
- Willingness to look at how each partner’s past experience has impacted the relationship.
- Willingness to view personal impact on problems, without relying on blame, and to implement changed behavior through awareness.
- Ability to tolerate shame from one’s own harmful past behavior.
- Curiosity about one another.
- Curiosity about oneself—a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset.
- Tolerance to grieve aspects of oneself that have fallen away through partnership or life choices.
- Ability to embrace self-compassion and humility over perfectionism.
There are a few relational factors that need to be considered and resolved before a couple can begin couples work. Unaddressed, these factors can make it very difficult to tolerate couples work.
- Rigid, or fixed, mindset.
- Becoming non-relational as a coping strategy for trauma.
- Contempt for our partner. Unlike the other factors, which can be worked on individually or in other settings, this is a non-starter. If we’re committed to our contempt for our partner, no amount of therapy is worth it.
If you are eager to do this work and you know it, couples therapy is truly worth its weight in gold.
If you think you may want to move forward with couples therapy, take a look at my journal to learn more about the important concepts that are addressed in couples counseling. Download my workbook on “Rupture & Repair” to get a sense of what the work looks like, and reach out to me at [email protected] if you have any questions.