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What to Expect at the First Marriage Counseling Session

by
author image Lauren Mills
Lauren Mills, L.C.S.W. is a licensed psychotherapist and mental health writer with a private practice based in New York City. She has extensive experience providing psychotherapy to children, adolescents, adults and families. She holds a Masters of Science in clinical social work from Columbia University.
What to Expect at the First Marriage Counseling Session
Marriage counseling can help couples learn skills for resolving conflicts. Photo Credit alexsokolov/iStock/Getty Images

The decision to begin going to marriage counseling can be daunting. It may begin by a couple making a mutual choice to seek counseling, or it may be one partner asking the other one to attend. For those who have never been to couples counseling before, going to the first session can be difficult or anxiety provoking. Knowing what to expect from the first session can ease some of these fears and help couples feel prepared.

Decision to Seek Marriage Counseling

Couples may choose to begin counseling when they feel that they can no longer solve problems together and the help of an objective third party can help get things back on track. Since a marriage counselor is not there to take sides, the therapist is looking objectively at ways the couple can build understanding and satisfaction in the relationship. The therapist may provide the couple with instructions to give them the basis for knowing what types of communication are effective and what types will only cause more conflict, according to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., in her article, "5 Principles of Effective Couples Therapy," in Psychology Today,

The First Session

What to expect during the first session can depend on the therapist. Some therapists will ask to speak with each member of the couple individually and then together, while others may spend the first session with the couple together. Likely, during the first session, the therapist or counselor will ask basic questions about the history of the relationship, such as marital status, how long have you been in the relationship or how the couple met. The therapist will likely also inquire about what brought the couple to couples therapy. The therapist may also observe how you interact and communicate, because it provides information about the relationship. The initial appointment focuses on learning about who you are as individuals and also as a couple, and this can be considered the assessment phase of counseling.

Have Patience

Couples come to counseling in different phases of a relationship and varying life stages. Some couples may have been together a short time while others have been married for twenty years. The stage of the relationship may affect the course of counseling and what you want to accomplish. While marriage counseling can be short-term, couples who have had communication patterns in a relationship for many years may not experience change in just a few sessions. The provider will help you and your partner identify the conflict issues within your relationship and help you decide what changes you need to make, according to Psychology Info Online. Having patience with your relationship and realistic expectations about counseling can help to make the experience fulfilling and prevent becoming frustrated with the process.

Feel Prepared

The decision to go to marriage counseling can be a difficult one, but it can also be an opportunity to demonstrate commitment to your significant other and work through barriers in a relationship. Knowing what to expect in the first session can ease the anxiety of beginning counseling. In order to feel more comfortable going to your first session, you can call the therapist you are planning to see and ask what to expect. This may include questions about the format of the session, the fee, office location or anything else on your mind prior to the session. Most marriage counselors will welcome these questions in advance. Your attitude toward change is more important than what action to take when working on a relationship, states the Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California. Entering the session with an open mind can help a couple feel at ease and ready to being the work of couples therapy.

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