5 Important Lessons I've Learned in Couples Therapy
“So, you walked away from the pizza...”
- Real serious quote from our therapist, haha!
Andrew and I started going to therapy together back in October, and it was a decision we willingly made to explore and grow deeper in our relationship. While going into it there wasn’t a particular “problem” we were trying to fix, we wanted to open up new and better ways to communicate with one another. Consider it a part of our wellness routine. Andrew calls it “relationship flossing”.
I’m a big fan of therapy for wellness, whether it’s individual therapy or alongside with your partner. I think it’s immensely important for personal growth, self-care, and absolutely anyone and everyone can benefit from it.
I saw a couple of different therapists in high school when I was struggling with depression and an eating disorder, and while I think I resisted the help back then (#stubborn), I now appreciate all of the value therapy can bring. Going to therapy doesn’t mean you are broken, and it doesn’t mean you have failed. It means you give a damn. And that counts. A lot.
I’m extremely grateful to have a partner who gives a damn and is so open to trying new experiences with me. We look forward to therapy together, even though some weeks it can get unexpectedly heavy…
It took us a few sessions to get into the groove, but we finally feel like we are having a breakthrough. Many of our issues or pain points we’ve discussed in the past are carrying a similar a theme. Since we’ve started to identify these patterns, we are starting to understand how to better approach the situations when they arise.
I love being vulnerable on this platform and sharing my learnings with you in real time, so I hope in doing so, you know you’re not alone.
important lessons I’ve learned in couples therapy:
1. Making requests are key.
This was golden for us. Here’s an example… Your partner says they will help clean up the kitchen, but they keep forgetting. Instead of saying “Ugh, you never help me. I have to do everything.”
Try this, “Hey babe, you mentioned earlier that you’d help me clean the kitchen. Would you consider helping me tidy up every night before we go to bed? Waking up to a messy kitchen gives me anxiety, so this would help me feel more at peace when I work from home.”
Loose structure: Make your request, set a deadline, describe how accomplishing this task would make you feel. At the end of the day, your partner wants you to be happy, so this approach is more calming and easier to respond to than getting blamed or scolded for not doing something.
P.S. This is a real life scenario for us, and it’s an actual agreement we’ve made together.
2. Don’t wear mascara.
Crying… it happens. It’s not easy to talk about yourself and dissect your fears, your past hardships, and your not-so-attractive qualities. It’s inevitable, so avoiding mascara is my way of surrendering and letting my body do what it needs to do. There have been days where we talk about our own lives before we were together, and it feels more like a solo session. Those are the days when I feel so grateful to have my partner by my side to learn more about what makes me me.
3. Things might feel worse before they feel better.
We went into therapy not knowing what to even talk about. But we kept showing up, sharing what was on our mind, unpacking any conflicts or challenges from the week prior, and our therapist would help us connect the dots. We learned that little arguments are actually stemmed from a larger theme of disputes. Some days got real heavy. We opened up and shared feelings we didn’t realize we had bottled up. Sometimes it was painful to hear. Digging up those deeper, more underground emotions can be messy at first. But, once it’s all out there, you are able to finally find a way to address it and move forward together.
4. Resist the urge to always defend.
This was challenging for me at first. In couples therapy there are two truths: yours and your partner’s. Both sides are equally valid and neither party is incorrect in their feelings. So, while you may disagree with your partner’s telling of a story, that’s their truth and it shouldn’t be brushed off. Resist the urge to defend, and instead listen up. Lean into the discomfort, even if it doesn’t feel good. This is where progress happens. Your therapist will give you a chance to share your side too.
5. Connection and open communication are a daily practice.
In order to get the most out of your sessions, it’s important to put what you’ve learned into action. While opening your heart in therapy is awesome, it’s how you consistently implement these new boundaries and approaches out in the real world that matter. It takes commitment and constant practice to catch ourselves in the midst of a heated moment and approach it in the way our therapist has taught us. We are far from perfect, but it’s already helping us SO much.
I realize therapy is not easily accessible for everyone, and a lot of insurance doesn’t cover mental health services. Ours doesn’t cover it either, which is definitely a shame, but that’s an entirely different topic for another time. But, to give you an idea, our sessions are around $100-$150 depending on if we do 50 or 80 minutes and we go biweekly.
Here are a few resources that YOU all have shared with me in the past for more accessible therapy. *Please note that I have never personally tried the below. I see a therapist that is based here in Austin (I will not share who my therapist is, as that’s a boundary I’d like to keep).
Talkspace - Online therapy via text or video // Unlimited is $49/week which is about $196 per month
Betterhelp - Online therapy via text or video // Starts at $35 per week
Lasting: Marriage Health App - Marriage counseling made simple (I don’t believe there is video or text, but more so exercises to complete together) // $11.99 per month or $79.99 for the year
Open Path Collective - Connects you with affordable therapists in your area // $30 per session for individuals + $30-80 for couples and families
Non-profits and churches are also an option to look into for free counseling