The Most Important Questions To Address In Couples Therapy

Updated February 26, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
”It can feel scary to be asked certain questions about a relationship, but the ones that need asked the most are probably the ones that we need to reflect on most urgently. Remember that couples’ counseling is not just focused on what is going poorly in the relationship, but also what is going well, and you will have the opportunity to talk about what is working to strengthen the relationship.” - Nicholas DeFazio, MRC, LPCC-S, LICDC

Relationship counseling tends to be a learning process. Many of the difficulties that arise between loving partners are rooted in the things they don’t know or understand about each other — or themselves. The process of repairing and improving your relationship may involve uncovering things that have gone unrecognized in your life together. You may want to prepare for this process by considering the big questions you’ll have to confront in couples therapy.

You may need to ask some of these questions to better understand your loved one’s needs and emotions. Others might be best directed at yourself, to clarify what you’re really looking for from your partner. 

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How To Ask Questions In Couples Therapy

Research into couples therapy suggests that unhealthy communication styles can be a major factor in relationship dissatisfaction. As such, knowing the right questions may not be enough unless you ask and answer them in the right way. 

  • Avoid pointed questions. Do you really want to know the answer to what you’re asking, or are you simply trying to shame or criticize your partner? If it’s the latter, it may be better to set it aside.
  • Don’t be defensive. At the same time, you may need to give your partner the benefit of the doubt when listening to their questions and answers. The things you learn during relationship counseling may be painful, but responding defensively could make things worse.
  • Be prepared to learn something new. When you’re asking important questions, it’s usually best not to assume you already know the answers. Couples therapists say that the biggest difficulties in their clients’ relationships are often deeply hidden, sometimes rooted in suppressed trauma or unconscious preconceptions. It can be crucial to keep an open mind, recognizing that you may still have lots to discover about the person you love.
  • Answer honestly but respectfully. Honestly discussing even negative thoughts and emotions can be critical to the success of couples therapy.  At the same time, you should probably avoid doing so in a contemptuous or hostile way. Remember that the goal is for the two of you to build a loving, mutually supportive connection.

With all that in mind, what are the key questions you should be addressing in couples therapy?

#1: What Are You Hoping To Achieve?

It might seem like the obvious answer is “to fix our relationship”. But what exactly do you mean by that? Different couples may have different ideas about what a thriving relationship looks like. And your partner’s view of what’s not working may have little resemblance to yours.

Getting these goals and possible disagreements out in the open at the beginning can be an important step in the couples therapy process. Couples counseling often functions best when it’s working on specific problems. This helps you avoid bouncing aimlessly from one quarrel to the next instead of digging deep into the major sources of discord in your relationship.

Even if you don’t see eye to eye about which problems are most pressing, you can take that disagreement as a starting point. Studies suggest that when couples can get on the same page about what to work on in therapy, their engagement and outcomes are better.

#2: How Much Are You Willing To Change To Make Things Work?

This question might not have a simple answer. However, it’s probably important to at least give it some thought before you proceed, because it may help you get in the right mindset for counseling. 

Couples therapists report that people often come to them expecting help in getting their partners to change. However, it’s extremely rare for one person to be solely responsible for the difficulties in a relationship. And because you can’t control the other person’s behavior, you might be better off focusing on what you could do differently. Consider what you’d be willing to give up and how you’d be willing to change to make things work.

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#3: When Was The Last Time You Were Happy As A Couple?

If you’re in a long-term relationship with someone, chances are that at some point that relationship made you feel fulfilled, excited, and hopeful. Thinking back to that time can achieve two things:

  1. By recalling the good times, you may be reminded of what drew you to your loved one and what you appreciate about them.
  2. By noting when things became strained, you might be able to identify what’s changed — was it a financial disruption? The stresses of parenthood? The loss of a hobby that used to bring you together?

The idea isn’t to mourn what you’ve lost but to take stock of your journey together and figure out how you got here. Keep in mind that, once again, your partner’s answer may differ from yours. This can also give you some insight into what they value from the relationship and what they feel is lacking.

#4: What Behavior Of Mine Do You Wish I Would Change?

You probably won’t enjoy learning the answer to this one, but working on a damaged relationship is rarely painless. One of the advantages of dealing with your differences in couples therapy is that both parties have a space where they can talk about their feelings honestly. It’s often important to allow your partner to let you know how your words, actions, and attitudes are affecting them.

This doesn’t mean you need to accept every request they make without question. It may turn out that your partner is asking for something unreasonable or that interpreting your behavior in an overly negative light. But you may never have the opportunity to clarify those misunderstandings if you’re not willing to hear what the other person is thinking.

#5: What Do You Need From Me That You’re Not Getting?

This is similar to the previous question, except that instead of asking what you can do less of, you’re asking what you can do more of. Neglect can be as damaging to love as hostility. 

Does your partner feel ignored? Have they gotten the impression that you’re not interested in their accomplishments or that you’re unwilling to stand up for them? You may not be able to restore the bond between you until you know what they think is missing.

#6: Have Either Or Both Of You Been Unfaithful? 

For some couples, this may be the hardest topic of all to tackle. Infidelity can leave the betrayed party feeling duped, disrespected, and rejected. It can be a major blow to their self-esteem or provoke intense anger. In many cases, it can call the entire relationship into question, casting doubt on whether the cheating partner was ever fully committed. 

Despite all this, infidelity does not necessarily mean there’s no hope for reconciliation. That’s why this question, difficult as it is, can be so important to address. If infidelity is kept secret, the likelihood of splitting up appears to drop to 20% or lower.

#7: How Does Your Partner Give And Receive Love?

A research paper from 2022 presented compelling evidence for the idea that different people may have different “love languages”. One person may tend to show love by finding ways to help their partner and make their life easier, while another may find it more natural to give thoughtful gifts or words of praise and affection. 

This can also apply to being on the receiving end. Certain people may find it easier to feel loved when their partner displays physical closeness and affection, while others might find quality time together more meaningful. Learning your partner’s love language can help you do a better job of communicating how much they mean to you. It may also open your eyes to the various ways they’re expressing love toward you.

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Online Therapy Can Help You Get The Conversation Started

Going to couples therapy can take place over the Internet as well as in person, and clients often find this option much more convenient. Finding the right therapist can be faster when you can look beyond your immediate area, and scheduling sessions may be easier when you can attend them from your couch. If you’ve been putting off relationship counseling because of the inconvenience, it may be time to start looking online. Therapists often caution that waiting too long to address your challenges in therapy can make resolution harder.

Internet-based couples therapy is frequently quite effective. A 2020 study noted that the majority of participants found the experience beneficial, including many who doubted whether the online approach could work for them. Quite a few even said that talking with their therapist remotely gave them “a greater sense of control and comfort” that made it easier to develop a good working relationship.

Takeaway

A clear diagnosis of what’s affecting the health of your relationship can greatly enhance the healing process. As such, it can be important to find honest answers to questions about topics like treatment goals, unspoken feelings, unfulfilled needs, and infidelity. Shedding light on these issues may reveal what needs to change for your partnership to grow stronger.

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