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What Personal Qualities Speed Up Progress for Couples in Therapy?

Updated: Mar 7

Couples therapist, Chris Langer, takes a closer look at the personal qualities possessed by clients that speed up progress in Couples Therapy.

Couple in jeans, one standing on tiptoe
Couples therapy enhances positive personal qualities
Just making a start in couples therapy demonstrates good intentions.

It’s natural for couples to search for the best couples therapist they can find for their personal circumstances. Factors such as professionalism, qualifications, specialist couples training and experience are often high on the list.

But another question worth asking is what personal qualities do clients bring to help create successful outcomes in couples therapy?


Couples are often in a fairly negative state of mind when they start therapy. Partners don’t feel particularly open to each other at this stage. There is a feeling that perhaps nothing will break the relationship deadlock and it could all be a lost cause. This prevailing negative sentiment is typical at the start, but things often start to improve from the first session onwards.

Couples therapy helps partners pick up new skills and tools. The optimism begins to return when new ways of relating become possible. Being open to the therapeutic process helps couples push past the initial negativity.

Ability to recognise good intentions

Just making a start in couples therapy demonstrates good intentions. Coming to therapy underlines the fact that despite the difficulties, there is a willingness to try and resolve the issues which feel problematic.

Couples are often putting in a huge effort to make things work, but that effort may feel as though it is going unnoticed. This can feel exhausting and lead to feeling at a loss as to what to do next.

Part of the work in couples therapy is to get partners to feel ‘seen’, noticed and respected again. It helps if partners can hold in mind that the other has good intentions, even where the relationship may currently feel stressful.

Willingness to learn

There’s nothing to be learned from repeated old, unhealthy patterns. The willingness to learn important new skills for relationships is a key driver of success. Once the skills are put into practice and the positive difference observed that learning begins to pay dividends.

Couples can also be curious to learn more about their partners. They may claim to know the other’s views and options, but this is not the same as knowing their feelings. Often unhealthy patterns mask underlying feelings. Couples therapy encourages a desire to learn about each other at a deeper level.

Ability to self-reflect

Lots of positive change in relationships comes about through reflecting on any behaviour patterns which block connectedness and intimacy. This involves stepping back from the interactions and taking an objective view. Through self-awareness and mindfully appreciating what is happening in the moment, it is possible to see a new range of options. Stepping out of autopilot is key to setting up healthy patterns for the future.

Self-reflection can also be used to amplify and reinforce anything which works well in the relationship. This is actively encouraged in couples therapy. If it works well, positive reinforcement is the key to maintaining any behaviours a couple would like to experience more.


Despite the challenges, couples who persevere and trust in the process of couples therapy are more likely to succeed. Showing up in couples therapy for regular appointments - however difficult things may seem - tends to yield the most positive results.

There is plenty to learn from an apparent lack of progress or challenging events. Riding out the emotional rollercoaster can lead to a calmer atmosphere, especially where it is accompanied by self-reflective learning (see also ‘willingness to learn’ above).

Ability to show vulnerability

Showing one’s vulnerability in a calm atmosphere where active listening prevails can bring a couple closer together. In couples therapy, it is in no way a weakness to show vulnerability. It can provide a strong basis for emotional connectedness, demonstrating that it is fundamentally okay to bring up genuine upset or distress.

If emotions can be freely brought up and acknowledged, it creates the right foundations for a loving, trusting relationship.


Taken together, the personal qualities clients bring into couples therapy can play a large role in speeding up progress. The good news is that these personal qualities can be enhanced by the process of couples therapy.

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