How to Prepare for Couples Therapy | All Points North

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How to Prepare for Couples Therapy

Couples therapy can be a significant turning point for your relationship. There are a few things you should keep in mind so that you can make the most out of this time, engage fully in your therapy session, and come prepared to do the work of healing together.

Understand What Couples Therapy Can and Can’t Do

The first step you need to prepare for couples therapy is to understand what couples counseling can and cannot do. Meeting with a couples therapist can go a long way toward helping you and your partner overcome relationship challenges, but your therapist alone cannot “fix” a damaged relationship.

The power to change the relationship comes from you and your partner. Your therapist is there to provide a safe and productive space for each of you to share about your interpersonal challenges, help both of you expand your thinking, and facilitate the healing process.

Of course, a therapist has an abundance of tools to help this process along. But they cannot force someone to change who isn’t willing to. In order to get the most out of couples therapy, it is critical that both you and your partner are entering therapy prepared to do the work, be open and honest, and listen to feedback.

While the power to heal a relationship comes from the couple themselves, this doesn’t necessarily mean a couple will be able to recover from interpersonal challenges without a therapist.

Your couples therapist still has the tools, training, and experience to help guide you through the process. But you shouldn’t expect that your therapist can simply fix the problem without putting in the effort yourself.

Choose the Right Therapist

One of the most critical elements of any talk therapy approach is finding the therapist that is right for you and your relationship. Finding the right therapist can sometimes be a bit of a process, and it depends on both your therapist’s qualifications and the way you perceive your therapist to be the right fit for your needs.


The first step to finding the right couples therapist is making sure they have the education, training, and experience required to help you and your partner through relationship challenges. There are a few key things you can look for to ensure these qualifications are in place.

The first is credentials. Look for letters behind their names, such as LMFT (licensed marriage and family therapist), LPC (licensed professional counselor), or PhD or PsyD (psychologist).

You should also look for experience. All licensed therapists have thousands of hours of clinical experience as a prerequisite, but you can further inquire about specific experiences with your relationship challenges.

Finally, look up reviews. It can often be beneficial to read online reviews or seek out specific recommendations in finding a couples therapist to ensure they provide quality care.

These three components serve as a baseline for finding a capable and effective couples therapist, but these alone typically aren’t enough to determine whether they are the right fit for you.

Determining Fit

“Fit” refers to how well you and your partner get along with the therapist and how confident you are in their ability to help. Determining fit is a much more subjective process than finding a therapist’s qualifications, and it can sometimes take a few sessions to determine whether they are the right counselor for your needs.

The best way to determine a good fit between you and your couples therapists is to schedule an initial consultation. This provides a space for you and your partner to meet with your therapist, explain the overarching problems you are facing in your relationship, and determine whether you and your partner believe this therapist can help.

It can often be beneficial to schedule multiple consultations before deciding on a therapist. Fit is frequently described as a gut feeling rather than an intellectual process. You want your therapist to make you feel comfortable, provide confidence, and show that they are committed to helping your relationship improve.

This is often a bit more complicated in couples therapy than in individual therapy, as a couples therapist needs to be a good fit for both you and your partner. A good couples therapist shouldn’t take sides, should let both clients feel heard and understood, and encourage growth in both partners.

Set Goals Before Each Session

You should make goals to prepare for couples therapy. Before ever meeting a therapist, set goals for what you hope to achieve in couples therapy, and set smaller goals for each individual session you attend.

Having these goals in mind ensures that you, your partner, and your therapist are all working toward the same ends and that you don’t feel like your time in couples therapy is being wasted.

As the old saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Beginning couples therapy without a clear sense of direction can mean that you don’t focus your time on the issues and challenges that have the greatest impact on your relationship and life.

The first step in setting a goal for therapy is identifying the problem. You don’t want to be caught off guard when your therapist asks, “What is it you’re hoping to work on?” While you may be experiencing a number of relationship challenges, people typically come to couples therapy to deal with issues like:

  • Poor communication
  • Lack of intimacy
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Identifying shared values
  • Making each other a priority
  • Breakdown of trust
  • Working through infidelity

With the problems identified, you can create an overarching goal for couples therapy. For example, your goal might be to restore intimacy or trust. But these are broad, sweeping goals and typically can’t be resolved in a single therapy session.

In addition to this larger goal, make small goals for each therapy session. For example, if you struggle with communication, your goal might be to find new ways to communicate effectively together.

If you’re having trouble with these goals, your therapist will certainly be able to help.

Reflect on You and Your Partner’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Knowing your and your partner’s strengths and weaknesses can be crucial to getting effective mental health support and will help you prepare for couples therapy. For example, you may be the more extroverted and talkative individual in the relationship, while your partner may be more introverted and reserved.

There is almost always this type of personality imbalance in couples therapy. When it occurs, it is vital that it is recognized and addressed by both the clients and the therapist.

An extroverted individual in couples therapy may need to tone down their extroverted nature in order to let their partner have space to share about their own challenges. Similarly, a more reserved individual may need to work a little harder to open up in the therapy session.

But this is just one example of a difference of strengths and weaknesses in communication. One partner may be more in tune with their emotions than the other, or one may have a more robust set of coping mechanisms. Recognizing and acknowledging these different characteristics can help set the stage for a healthy therapy process.

Prepare Yourselves Emotionally and Mentally

It’s important to recognize that couples therapy is hard work. To prepare, you need to get yourself ready emotionally and mentally in order for it to be effective.

You shouldn’t expect every therapy session to be cathartic and healing. Sometimes, it can be an hour-long practice of patience, it might require substantial self-reflection, and it will certainly require both you and your partner to change the way you think and behave in order to see results.

Often, people can resist the emotional and mental challenges of couples therapy. But when you are able to embrace that these difficult times are the work of achieving your relationship goals, you can make real progress in healing the damages of the past.

Enter Therapy With an Open Mind

People enter couples therapy for all types of reasons, but often, the most important component to therapeutic success is keeping an open mind in the therapeutic process. You may feel like you know just what the problem is, only for your therapist to identify something else entirely as the underlying issue.

The default state for most people is to reject this premise, hold onto their beliefs, and not change their thoughts, actions, or behaviors. But even though this is the natural response, it often isn’t the path to true healing and recovery.

By keeping an open mind in your couples therapy sessions, you can expand the way you think, the way you perceive your partner, and even the way your partner perceives you. This openness not only illuminates how other people are feeling but can shine a light on the path to recovery and healing.

Recognize That Therapy Takes Time

People will often live in unhappy marriages or relationships for years before ever seeking couples therapy. Yet when they finally make the decision to seek out professional help to get better, they want instant gratification and results.

Unfortunately, there is no quick-fix solution for healing relationship challenges, even if you have the best therapist available.

Couples therapy takes time. It takes time for your therapist to understand the issues between you and your partner, understand each one of you as a person, and develop a plan of action that can help you resolve your interpersonal challenges.

Even when the specific problems are detailed and a plan of action is put into place, this often requires breaking patterns of thinking and behavior that have been happening for years. These changes don’t always work in a linear fashion, but require concerted effort and dedication on behalf of multiple individuals.

Typically, couples counseling will last between three and six months. If you haven’t gotten the results you’ve been hoping for in the first couple of weeks, don’t give up yet.

It’s Okay to Not Be Fully Prepared

As you can tell, there’s an abundance of ways you can prepare for couples therapy. But life is filled with other challenges and responsibilities, and you can’t spend every waking hour thinking about your next therapy session.

If you don’t have clear preparations for every stage of therapy, that’s okay. If you can’t answer some of the questions above, that’s fine, too. Bring them up with your therapist. You aren’t expected to know how therapy works before you begin.

Start Couples Therapy at APN

When you’re ready to begin couples therapy, reach out to the team at APN. Our team can help you find the right therapist for you, set up an initial consultation, and provide you with the support you need to get your relationship back on track. Contact us by filling out our confidential contact form or by calling us at 855.934.1178.


  • Ardito, Rita B, and Daniela Rabellino. “Therapeutic alliance and outcome of psychotherapy: historical excursus, measurements, and prospects for research.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 2 270. 18 Oct. 2011, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00270
  • Liddle, H.A., Kareem, S. (2019). Multidimensional Family Therapy. In: Lebow, J.L., Chambers, A.L., Breunlin, D.C. (eds) Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy. Springer, Cham.