Couples Series Part IV: What To Expect from Marriage Counselling?

Dec 7, 2022

It can feel like a big leap to schedule marriage counselling. Whether you reached out and set up the appointment or you’re following the lead, you are stepping into something new and unknown. Naturally, you’ll feel some anxiety of uncertainty. If you’re lucky, perhaps you’ll feel curiosity and even excitement. As it turns out, anxiety and excitement are just different ‘flavours’ of the same general ‘activation’ in our nervous system. We ‘switch on’ to prepare for what we find important. This switched-on feeling can trend towards fearful dread or pleasurable excitement, depending on many factors. One of many contributing pieces is how known or unknown the event is. It is well established that if we can help reduce uncertainty and gain a sense of known control, events trend more towards hope and excitement. Name it to tame it; it is often called. So let’s use today’s article to do some of that by sharing what to expect from marriage counselling. Here is a list of some items taking the surprise and mystery out of couples’ work: 


What to Expect in Marriage Counselling?


You’re Going To Meet With A Therapist

This one probably didn’t knock you out of your chair. Appointments tend to be 50 or 75 minutes and are conducted in the office or via web counselling. You’ll connect with a professional whose job is to support you in reaching your goals.


The Therapist Doesn’t Take Sides

The work isn’t about being right. This may even feel a bit disappointing. The thing is, ‘being right’ implies there is some bigger and better truth that could defeat your partner. In reality, this isn’t generally how relationships work.  Instead, both partners have a valid emotional experience that needs to be expressed and understood. The therapist facilitates this so that you can both team up against the issue instead of against each other.


It Isn’t A Communications Skills Course

People reach out to us asking for ‘tools’ and ‘communication skills.’ Sure, you’ll learn some of these, but they’re the less important part. The issue with tools and skills is that as soon as you’re both triggered, using them is nearly impossible. If willpower worked, you’d have already solved things. Instead, what you’re learning to do is notice and escape negative cycles of interaction. This is about learning how to ground and anchor each other when you are both triggered and distressed. Rather than leaving with an education, you leave with an increased ability to transform emotions and be present with each other through challenging moments.


It Works In Phases

The first many sessions are spent simply reflecting back to you the cycles you are trapped in. “But we KNOW the arguments we have already! We don’t need you to tell us that again.” Trust me. You’re missing the subtle messages, cues and emotional chains that result in the same thing happening again and again.  Our job is to kindly and calmly help you to notice with crisp awareness the order micro-events are occurring so that you can step outside of them. When you understand the cycle, we move to the second phase of entraining familiar habits of how to de-escalate with safety and appreciation. Who knew there was a peaceful way out of arguments?


It Takes Patience

It took years to entrain your patterns. Heck, it took your whole lives, given that these cycles are just repeating habits of interaction you started learning in childhood. You cannot cure this with one or two-hour-long chats. Couples who are serious about transforming their relationships are asked to commit to several months of therapy, understanding that resolving old hurt and resentment means weathering through difficult emotions. The last thing you want is to stir up big emotions without giving yourself the gift of a peaceful resolution.


What Not to Expect From Marriage Counselling?

I understand that entering marriage counselling can be a big decision. It’s important to have realistic expectations of what the process can achieve and what it can’t. Here are 5 things that you should not expect from marriage counselling. 


Immediate Solutions

Counselling is not a miracle fix that will instantaneously resolve all your issues in just a few sessions. Rather, it necessitates a significant amount of patience, time, and commitment from you and your spouse. 


That You are Right

As marriage therapists, we remain impartial and attentive to both parties’ perspectives. Each of you and your partner’s feelings are equally important and valid. We don’t choose sides or tell who’s right or wrong but rather work to help you comprehend and understand to see the reality from a different perspective- of your partner


Guaranteed Reconciliation

Don’t expect reconciliation because you are seeing a counsellor. 

Sometimes, marriage or relationships end in a therapy session. And this is not unusual. In fact, we have seen, in many cases, that counselling has actually led to the realization that separation or divorce is the best course of action for both individuals.


What Not to Say in Marriage Counselling?

There are certain things that you should avoid during your therapy sessions. It is crucial to approach the problem as a collaborative effort between you and your partner. You are here against the problem, NOT you against your partner. 

  • Avoid using language that blames your partner, such as “You always…” or “You never…”; instead focus on using “I” to express your feelings and needs. This can create a more constructive and respectful dialogue in your relationship.
  • Rather than responding with defensiveness and denial, stay open to feedback and willing to listen to your partner’s perspective. 
  • Avoid sarcastic remarks at all costs. You are not here to make your partner feel unheard but to improve communication.
  • Making absolute statements like “This will never work” can close off the possibility of progress. Keep the conversation focused on the present and the steps you can take.

Don’t threaten to leave. This is a big NO! Marriage counselling is to find compromises and solutions together.


How To Prepare For The First Session of Couples Counselling?

Just like any journey, a bit of preparation can go a long way. Trust me, it’ll make all the difference! 

Gearing up for your first counselling session with a positive attitude and a game plan can really set the tone for what’s to come.

Let’s get into how to prepare for that all-important first session:

  • Reflect on what’s working and what’s not in your relationship.
  • Talk with your partner about areas that need improvement and shared goals for therapy. 
  • Discuss shared goals for therapy with your partner.
  • Clear your schedule for your first appointment. This includes time after the session too. You may want to have time to reflect and practice self-care.
  • Be ready to hear your partner’s perspective and be open to thinking about things in new ways.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask the counsellor any questions about the therapy process or what to expect in future sessions.


What do You Talk about in Your First Therapy Session?

Think of your marriage counselling session as a bridge connecting your past experiences with future goals. Just as a foundation supports a sturdy structure, we ask thoughtful questions and explore your relationship dynamics so we can build a foundation for future sessions. 

Some general marriage counselling questions that couple therapists could ask are: 


Introduction and Background:

  • Can you each briefly introduce yourselves and share a little about your background?
  • How did you meet, and what initially attracted you to each other?
  • What made you decide to seek couples counselling at this time?


Goals and Expectations:

  • What are your individual and shared goals for participating in couples counselling?
  • What do you hope to achieve or change through these sessions?


Communication and Conflict:

  • How do you typically communicate with each other, especially during disagreements?
  • Can you describe a recent conflict or disagreement you’ve had and how you both handled it?
  • What are some patterns you’ve noticed in your communication and disputes?


Strengths and Challenges:

  • What are some strengths and positive aspects of your relationship?
  • On the flip side, what challenges or areas of concern are you experiencing?


Feelings and Emotions:

  • How do you each feel about the current state of your relationship?
  • Can you share some of your emotional experiences within the relationship?


History and Milestones:

  • Can you talk about the history of your relationship, from when you first met to the significant milestones you’ve experienced together?


Roles and Responsibilities:

  • How are your relationship’s responsibilities (financial, household, etc.) divided?
  • Are there any imbalances or conflicts regarding these roles?


Communication Styles:

  • How do you express love and affection to each other?
  • Are there certain ways you’d like your partner to show love that they might not be aware of?


Boundaries and Expectations:

  • Are there any specific boundaries you’ve set within the relationship?
  • What are some expectations you have of each other?


Individual Perspectives:

  • What do you consider your individual strengths and areas for growth in the relationship?
  • How do you perceive your partner’s strengths and areas for growth?


Shared Activities and Interests:

  • What are some activities or interests that you enjoy doing together?
  • Are there any hobbies or experiences you’d like to pursue as a couple?


Future Outlook:

  • Where do you envision your relationship in the future? What are your hopes for the relationship?


The Takeaway

If taking some of the mystery out of marriage counselling grabs your interest, please be welcome to reach out to any of our team for a free chat. The first steps can be daunting, but a great deal of the anxiety is simply a normal reaction to the unknown.

Take the next step in your couples journey by reading our latest post on Couples Series Part V: How to prepare for couples therapy?

If you missed the previous post in our Couples Series, it’s not too late to catch up! Click here to read Couple Series Part III: Does Couples Therapy Work and stay up to date with our discussion.

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari is the Founder and Clinic Director of Thrive Downtown, with years of experience helping individuals and couples overcome anxiety, depression, and burnout. He guides clients on a journey of self-exploration and trauma release to find purpose, connection, and safety. Take the first step towards healing and contact Carson today to schedule a session.

Latest Blogs