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7 Golden Rules for Getting the Best Results in Couples Therapy

How can partners create the right mindset for the best results in couples therapy? Couples therapist, Chris Langer, explains the '7 Golden Rules' for getting the most out of the work together.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was a thriving relationship.

Couple hugging in long grass
Achieving the best results in couples therapy


1. Don’t argue, regulate instead!


Without emotional regulation, it is hard to get out of a communication rut. You can’t argue your way to success in relationships. If tensions escalate and partners end up feeling angry or upset without resolving anything, it just feels like a record being played on repeat. It’s the same tune over and over - and you both know how to dance to it.


The truth is you probably already know each other’s well-argued positions on emotive subjects. What you may not know, however, is how the other person is feeling deep down.


Only emotional regulation and relative calm can provide the foundations for more authentic dialogue. This enables partners to get curious without getting furious and dance to a different tune.


2. Be prepared for a good kind of 'weird'


Making changes - even positive, healthy ones - initially feels a little weird. There is often resistance to healthy growth, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.


When couples start acting or talking in new ways, there’s even a tendency to backslide because that puts things in more familiar territory again. After all, everyone knows where they stand if nothing changes!


It’s a little bit like taking tennis lessons. The coach is telling you how to skilfully perform a stroke you need to learn, but you’re complaining it doesn’t ’feel right’. You’re still wedded to the old way of performing the stroke, even though it isn’t giving you good results. The ball keeps ending up in the net. Only by following the advice and consistently performing the stroke in the desired way, do the results improve.


Ironically, accepting that those positive changes may feel a little weird is the gateway to a new, thriving sense of togetherness.


3. Be willing to make personal changes


You can’t expect your partner to change if you’re unwilling to change yourself.


There’s a dynamic to every relationship. What one person does affects the other and vice versa. Authentic communication involves a two-way flow of information. The question to ask is: Why do you want your partner to change?


You can, of course, request that they make a change, but whether they abide by that is entirely up to them. Note that openly requesting a change is completely different from expecting it - and it can’t be a one way street. In open dialogue, both partners are receptive enough to listen to requests for change. But both are willing to make changes to improve the relationship.


4. Put some effort in


It may sound slightly ridiculous, but there is sometimes a view that a kind of magic wand will erase all the problems in a single wizardly swoop. Couples therapy is usually an effective catalyst, but is certainly not the guarantor of change. Becoming the change, rather than waiting for that change, is empowering. Naturally, some effort needs to be applied.


Changes made in therapy will be far more permanent where effort is consistently applied. That effort needs to continue long after the therapeutic intervention too. Said no couple ever: “We’re not making any effort, but are completely happy!”


5. Meet the challenges, don’t avoid them


The elephant in the room often shows up in the consulting room too. Not talking about it may preserve the status quo, though is ultimately counterproductive.


A level of discomfort whilst talking through issues in couples therapy is understandable. However, addressing what has previously felt unsayable, difficult or even taboo may well be a game changer. It’s usually a huge relief to discuss the undiscussable in a calm way.


A good example is talking about sex and unmet needs. See my article on why talking about sex in couples therapy can pay dividends, with the benefits felt outside the bedroom too.


6. Allow for different speeds


Partners often need to go at different speeds. Now matter how much you want things to improve in your time frame, there is always your partner to consider.


Having a preconceived idea about the progress that should be made by a particular deadline tends to delay, rather than speed up, genuine progress. This is because it applies an unnatural pressure, which often serves to increase psychological resistance.


For better results, check with your partner that their emotions about what needs to change have been acknowledged. Empathise with their needs and check what other emotions are coming up for them during therapy.


7. Have faith in the process


Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was a thriving relationship. At the beginning of couples therapy, there is usually a lot to discuss and bring out into the open. Resentment may have built up over a considerable period of time. The negativity can be reversed relatively quickly with a little persistence.


Faith in the process is often needed to overcome the initial pessimism. However, the results further down the line are a life affirming experience for most couples.



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