Counselling West Bridgford


Preparing for Couples Therapy 

(& questionnaire)

If you’re preparing for couples therapy, this article will be useful for you to understand what’s involved, and what will be expected of you.

I recommend, particularly if we’re booked in for couples therapy, you take some quiet time to read through this article.   Notice what stands out for you and any emotions that stir as you’re reading it.  I’ve added a few questions for reflection too.

There’s also a questionnaire at the end of this article for you to download and complete before attending your first full appointment.

Both will take time to read and consider, and I encourage you to take time out, separate from your partner, to absorb, reflect on and complete before we meet for our first full (90 minute) session.  There is no need to send anything to me in advance, although you are welcome to send your answers to the questionnaire if you’d prefer me to take a look before we meet (

One of the key take-aways for me is that it’s not easy, and will take time and effort, but the rewards will be worth it.

4 Elements to our work

I think of couples therapy as 4 elements working together:

  1. A foundation of the Developmental Model
  2. Your vision of the life and relationship you want to build
  3. Individual, autonomous goals that you set for yourself
  4. The process of our therapy appointments
Preparing for couples therapy; Four boxes; explaining the 4 elements of couples therapy: the developmental model, your relationship vision, therapy appointments, individual autonomous goals

1. The Developmental Model:

a growth model for relationships

The Developmental Model in Couples Therapy is a growth model which forms the foundation for our work.  Rather than seeing your relationship as broken, we approach it as being stuck at a road block in your progression through the various stages that a relationship passes through.

The stages are:

  • Bonding: forming the bond and establishing compatibility
  • Differentiation: understanding differences and developing ways to resolve conflicts
  • Exploration: developing separate identities and activities outside the relationship
  • Rapprochement: deepening connection and spending more time together again
  • Exploration: commitment to join projects and leaving a legacy

To read more about the developmental model, see more on the Couples Institute website.

2. Your Relationship Vision:

life as individuals and as a partnership 

How do you envisage your life and relationship in the future?  You no doubt had a picture in mind in the early days, but life tends to get in the way of that and things change.

Establishing a new vision, and understanding what you need to do to move towards it, is core to our work in couples therapy.  To begin with you may have no clear idea of what your vision is, but as the weeks and months progress therapy provides the space for it to emerge.

I also understand that you may arrive with a dilemma as to whether you will stay together or not, or one of you may have decided to leave and the other struggling with separation.  My goal for our work isn’t to keep you together or force you to separate, instead my intent is to help you move towards a decision.  Even if you split up, whilst your visions of the future may be too far apart, our aim is to help you gain a deeper understand of yourself, your partner and how you move towards your own independent visions.

3. Individual, Autonomous Goals:

working on yourself, not your partner

What might surprise you is that when you enter couples therapy with a therapist who’s trained at the Couples Institute, you will be working on yourself, rather than directly on your relationship.

You’ll be expected to have your own, individual goals.  By working on yourself, alongside your partner, you’ll both develop a deeper understanding of each other, which will facilitate a deeper connection.

We are all a product of our experiences from day 1 up until this present moment.  Through your personal exploration of some of those experiences, you will gain a better understanding of your patterns in relationship which can allow you to change and become a better partner, parent, friend, etc.

4. Therapy Appointments:

space for exploration and discovery

Couples therapy appointments with me address several themes at the same time:

  • Creating a safe environment for your to be vulnerable, initially inside the therapy room and, eventually, in your day-to-day life
  • Learning to share with your partner your thoughts and feelings in a non-blaming way
  • Understanding how to listen to your partner and understand their experience, whilst managing your own reactions and avoiding defensiveness, even when you disagree
  • Exploring your own motivations, reactions and defences at a deeper level
  • Understanding why you don’t do things which may seem to yourself or others to be easy to do
  • Exploring a vision of life and relationship you would like to achieve
  • Healing from your own past adverse experience or trauma that is “showing up” in your relationship
  • Learn a little bit about how relevant neurobiology is at play when you’re faced with difficulties in your relationship

Our therapy appointments use a specific process to help you explore your thoughts and feelings related to the goals you set yourself.  Sometimes the process helps you uncover new individual goals as you gain that deeper understanding.

My Role

My role in our therapy appointments is to provide you the space to explore.  I will coach you in speaking and listening, explain some of the neurobiology, provide focus, and encourage you in the work.

One thing I won’t be doing is refereeing! 

And we avoid, as much as possible, problem solving.  I suspect you’re already quite good at that.  My focus is on allowing you to really hear what your partner is saying, and express your own wants and needs in an authentic way, whilst taking responsibility for your actions and reactions.

Unfortunate Truths

It’s uncomfortable

One thing to prepare for, is that couples therapy will feel uncomfortable.  It can feel exposing when the spotlight is on you and you’re trying to express previously unspoken thoughts and feelings or where you expect your partner to be upset or angry at what you have to say.

Equally, you might discover that when you’re listening, and you aren’t allowed to defend yourself or disagree, the discomfort becomes overwhelming. 

Often when I ask a partner how they deal with arguments, they tell me how they lay out their rational argument clearly and logically, but then I witness their anger and frustration spill out when the topics get tricky.  Or where a client wishes their partner would open up, but when their partner starts to speak I see them try to jump in to “correct” the feelings their partner is expressing!

In couples therapy you will begin to explore your discomfort, understand its origins, and learn how to self-soothe when you feel triggered.

Are you prepared to feel the discomfort?

Don’t wait for your partner to change first

It’s understandable that when you’re having difficulties in your relationship, you might want to blame your partner and think that they are the one that needs to change.  And even if you appreciate your own part in your problems, you might feel it’s on them to change first.

There’s a brilliant book, “It Takes One to Tango” by  Winifred M. Reilly, which tells the true story of a psychotherapist and her marriage.  It shows how she sparked lasting, significant change in her relationship with little help from her husband.  She made the choice to change first, with wonderful results.  If you like reading, I highly recommend getting yourself a copy.  It’s really well written, and more like a fiction novel than a non-fiction text.

The brutal truth is, if you both wait for the other to “go first”, you’ll go nowhere and nothing will change. 

Do you have the courage to jump first?

Change takes commitment

In couples therapy, unlike individual psychotherapy, I insist my clients attend in person and at least once a week for the first 2-3 months, until we begin to see some meaningful change.

You will need to invest time, money, energy, emotion, humility for our work to be successful.  You’ll be working on changing thought patterns and behaviours that have been embedded in you for many years.  You may feel frustrated that it seems easy on the surface but harder to implement, either for you or when you’re looking for change in your partner.

This great video (about 8 minutes long at normal speed) demonstrates the challenge of learning new habits:

It takes practice, effort, but you can re-train your brain to form new habits and ways of thinking.

How will you maintain the motivation to persist in the face of repeated failure?

Preparation is key

It can be easy to turn up to therapy unprepared, bringing up the latest argument, whatever springs to mind, or asking your partner to introduce a topic.

That may be ok in the first few appointments as we settle in, as you start to learn the process and practice new ways of speaking and listening, because I have a bank of questions to try out.

However, in order to make real progress you must come prepared with topics to discuss that align with the individual goals you have made for yourself, and the aspects you need to discuss and consider as you move forward to achieve your relationship vision.  It’s likely there will be unresolved issues with your partner that we need to get to in order to move forward.

This isn’t an easy task, and we can discuss how to create those topics in our meetings.

How will you make sure you arrive prepared to therapy?

The work isn’t just in the therapy room

Whether you’re practicing new ways of responding and listening, starting to set aside time to talk to each other or complete other homework and preparation you agree to do, you won’t just be working during the 60-90 minutes each week you’re with me.

Work, children and other commitments can often be prioritised over your relationship.

How will you carve out additional time?

So why bother?

If that all seems too difficult, it might not be for you and it’s ok to admit that.

Having said that, learning more about yourself and how you are in relationship will set you up for the future even if your current relationship is at an end.  And you never know you might surprise yourself with your capacity to change.

Some final words of optimism

Short-term pain, long term gain

Often there’s a trade off between short-term gratification and achieving the relationship you strive for, and it can be tempting to give up.  Effort is required on both parties, but keeping the long-term vision in mind can help you maintain that effort.

Whilst it’s important to lay out clearly what you’re letting yourself in for, the results really are worth it.  I have the privilege of witnessing clients face the pain and fear of addressing their difficulties, going through it and coming out the other side with a new relationship that is based on a much deeper connection that leaves them set up for the future.  There’s a wonderful feeling of deep respect when you’ve both had the courage to do the work.

Your final reflections

Thank you for making it to the end of this article! Hopefully that’s helpful for you when you’re preparing for couples therapy.

My final invitation is for you to note the 2 or 3 things that stood out for you as you read through it.

If you’re preparing for our first full appointment together, here’s the questions for you to download complete before we meet:

one to one

Find out more about one to one therapy

couples therapy

Read about my growth model approach


Access videos, articles and exercises to try


Discover how you can support your staff


Prices for each type of appointment

Two champagne flutes half-filled with champagne; image for tool for meaningful relationships post

Preparing for Couples Therapy, Michelle Briggs, 2023