Picking up the phone for the first call for online couples therapy
You deserve tremendous credit. You’ve made that first call, or are planning to, to a therapist for online marriage counseling, which is such a courageous and difficult first step.
You likely made this choice after months, perhaps even years, of wrestling in your mind with a flurry of questions and thoughts. Do we really need online couples therapy? Our problems aren’t that bad. Most of the time, we are the best, but it’s just when we fight that things get tough, so do we really need help? Will a couples therapist really be able to help us? We’ve tried in-person or online marriage counseling before and it didn’t work, so why would this time be any different?
Discovering an Easier Path in Online Couples Therapy
It’s likely that, throughout the months or years, you’ve experienced a lot of ambivalence about seeing a couples’ therapist. Some days, you think you and your partner are doing just fine, even great, and so you can’t possibly need the help.
Other days, every moment between you two is tense, filled with nasty words shared between the two of you that, once the dust settles, you desperately wish you both could just take you both. On those days, you consider starting online couples therapy, but you ultimately choose not because you’ve both gotten through it all before, so you think you can do it again.
And that may very well be true. It is just that there are much easier ways to go about all of this, so making that first call to start online couples therapy is such a critical step on the path to discovering that much easier way!
Your First Call with A Couples Therapist
In that first call, your couples’ therapist will do his/her best to help you and your partner feel heard, understood, and supported. S/he will ask you a series of questions to begin to understand how you both currently understand the reasons you are seeking help (including the current difficulties and hopes for the future of the relationship).
The goal for the couples’ therapist in that first call is to communicate, “I hear and understand you both, I have a general idea of how to best help you both, and here is an overview of that plan so you feel confident we can work together to get you from here to that much deserved improved place.”
The Early Help
The beginning of couples therapy is detective work.
In order for a couples’ therapist to help you both, s/he needs to understand where the problems are, the reasons for them, and therefore, the appropriate tools and skills to teach you both to transform those areas of struggle into relationship strengths.
The couples’ therapist will provide you and your partner with questionnaires and assessments, as well as ask you both a series of questions, all to discover as quickly a profile of your relationship. Specifically, this work will illuminate your relationship strengths, areas of needed improvement, and the reasons for the current struggles.
What Each Online Couples Therapy Session Will Look Like
In accordance with the Gottman Method, one of the most renowned couples’ therapy approaches, your first session will include both of you, while the next 2 sessions will involve you both separately meeting with your couples’ therapist. This gives you both an opportunity to give your therapist a clearer picture, from each of your perspectives, of what you each believe is happening in the relationship and how to best fix it.
Then, in the fourth session, you both will return to meet with your couples’ therapist. This fourth session is the last one in the early, assessment phase of treatment. Here, your therapist will provide you both with a summary of the results from your previous 3 sessions, as well as your assessment and questionnaire results.
By the end of this fourth session, the 3 of you will have translated this picture of your relationship into a treatment plan, which is a blueprint of the top few areas of most needed improvement in your relationship. This plan will guide the focus of your treatment moving forward.
The Real Reasons You’re in Online Couples Therapy
Now that your couples’ therapist has done the great detective work and identified your relationship strengths, areas of needed improvement, and reasons for those difficulties, you all can now dive into the heart of online couples therapy.
The bulk of online couples therapy is about skill-building.
The reality is our society and upbringing set us up for relational failure. Consider that our culture praises individualism, dominance, and patriarchy. We grow up learning that our own, individual happiness is far more important than the happiness and well-being of our collective sense of well-being. We learn to compete, to be better than others, and to often do whatever it takes to get to the top just to try to survive in a very tough culture. And, it was only within the past few decades, that the idea of a patriarchal society has begun to be challenged.
As boys, we are often taught to dismiss our feelings; to feel them, we are often told, makes us weak and feminine. As girls, we are often taught we feel too much, and to express our feelings makes us “nagging.”
We often see our parents express little affection for each other, rarely having intimate conversations where they express a regular and genuine curiosity about each other. We also either tend to see our parents fighting, hurling cruel words at one another, maybe even hitting each other and us or perhaps we see them seeming never fight.
All of this undermines our development of strong intimacy and relationship skills.
Additionally, as kids, we do the best we can to survive difficult circumstances. Our responses to our childhood struggles form the foundation of how we will respond to future difficulties in life. The problem here is these best-we-could-do responses as kids are profoundly ineffective in adult relationships.
For example, some of the most common childhood adaptations are:
- thinking we are better than others
- believing we are less than others
- having boundaries that are too rigid (we become closed off)
- having boundaries that are too porous (we learn to let too many things affect us)
- believing/needing to be right
- retaliating against others.
All of these methods get us into trouble in adulthood, both in the context of how we relate to ourselves and in our relationships with others.
So, this is why you’re here.
You didn’t do anything wrong. You were set up to struggle and fail by a society that values many things that completely contradict having a healthy, intimate relationship with yourselves and others. By seeing these very things in our daily interactions with our caregivers, and by utilizing understandable responses as kids that just don’t do us any good as adults.
Identifying Your Strategies
Online marriage counseling, then, is hard and crucial work. Your couples’ therapist will help you understand all of these concepts, as well as aid you in recognizing the specific strategies you use now. As well as how they were the best automatic responses you used as a kid. Then, it’s about learning and practicing the right skills to use each session, and between sessions, so that you and your partner can develop new, and much healthier intimacy muscles.
Addressing Rigid Boundaries
For instance, perhaps you and your partner, as kids, learned that to survive, you had to put yourselves down, create and sustain extremely rigid boundaries so as try to not let others hurt you, and need to be right at all costs.
In this case, your couples therapist will work to help you develop skills centered around noticing when you and your partner are triggered to feel these kinds of things and practice talking to yourself in ways that build you up to a place of healthiness. Not putting yourself down, or being better than others, but rather, looking out evenly from your mind’s eyes at the world.
Your marriage counselor will also help you develop skills to lessen your boundaries. In order to allow yourselves to be more vulnerable, and recognize the healthy nature of this process.
Your therapist will also aid you in developing the following mantra:
“Would I rather be right or be married?”
The reality is it can be alluring to be right; it’s simply a losing strategy with our loved ones. So, your couples therapist will work to help you challenge the need to be right and replace it with understanding each other’s versions of events and working collaboratively to get to solutions.
Improving Active Listening
You may also learn such skills as improved active listening skills, some of which include postponing your agenda so you deeply listen to your partner and convey an accurate understanding of your partner’s emotions, thoughts, and needs. Additionally, you may learn to protect yourselves from the most unhealthy forms of communication, the 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse (criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling), as these are the biggest predictors of divorce.
Final Thoughts From A Couples Therapist
A difficult and likely long journey of ambivalence brought you to make that challenging first call to a couples’ therapist. Congratulate yourself for doing it. It’s an incredible first step to a journey that has the potential to give you and your relationship a transformed vastly healthier reality. In that journey, in just a few hours of sessions, you will both learn where you’re terrific, as well as where and why you need guidance in certain areas.
From there, you’ll both learn and regularly practice the crucial skills you likely never learned before, simply because our society, parents, teachers, and our childhood best attempts to survive and adapt didn’t teach us them. It’s never too late to learn and thank yourself that you’re taking the time and energy to give yourself and your partner these nourishing experiences!
Make the First Call & Start Online Couples Therapy in San Diego, CA
Online couples therapy is hard but important work that can give you the skills that are necessary to have a strong and healthy relationship.
Are you ready to make that first call to a couples therapist? If so Stress Solutions is here to support you whether you are in San Diego or anywhere else in California or Oregon. Just follow these steps:
- Make the first call & receive a free consultation
- Schedule your first appointment for online marriage counseling
- Start learning the skills to have the relationship that you want
Other Online Therapy Services I Offer in San Diego, California, & Oregon
You can receive more than online marriage counseling at Stress Solutions in San Diego. You can also receive individual therapy for anxiety, stress management, and trauma recovery. As well as therapy for men and addiction recovery.
About The Author, A San Diego Couples Therapist
Jordan Zipkin is a Couples Therapist who provides support to partners in San Diego, CA, and Portland, OR. He completed his Master’s in Clinical Psychology at Argosy University and has been a member of the Los Angles Chapter of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists since 2017. He is dedicated to helping couples identify their current strategies. As well as helping them learn new skills that will lead to a healthier connection. You can read more from Jordan on how to establish healthy boundaries and create a long-lasting happy relationship.