Do you think your partner is a good person? Do you think they have your best interest at heart? Do you think they want to make things better in your relationship but just don’t know how? Can you think of at least five things you like about your partner for every one thing you complain about? If not, the first thing you need to do is evaluate how accurate your thoughts are about your partner. If you really think that your partner is mediocre to bad and they are not invested in the relationship, therapy won’t fix that. If you have actually just gotten into a negative pattern of thinking about your partner, the best thing you can do is be aware of it and make your first goal to change your own thinking. Try making a mental (or actual) note of things you like about your partner, and remind yourself of the list regularly. When you are thinking of something that bothers you about your partner, make a conscious effort to reframe their behavior in terms that focus on the circumstances of the problem, not their character or motivations. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible, and assume that they want a better relationship with you, too. Give yourself a limit on complaints, and make sure you balance out complaints with focus on the things you like and love about your partner. If there is nothing you like or love about your partner, consider individual counseling before you jump into couples counseling. This can help you sort through your thoughts and feelings and decide what your goals are for yourself in the relationship.
Remember that no one can make another person change. It is normal to come to therapy hoping that you can get your partner to change, and hoping that if you can tell your side of things in a persuasive enough way, your therapist will see who is at fault, and agree that the best way to solve the problem is to get your partner to change. Unfortunately, if both of you are coming to therapy with this mindset, there is only one winner—the one the therapist sides with. As you can imagine, this means there is also a loser, the person the therapist doesn’t side with.
If couples therapy is focused on getting one person to change, that person will likely either disengage from therapy, or make a superficial change that doesn’t last. When that happens, you both lose. That’s why it’s not in your best interest for your therapist to take sides.
How Does Change Happen? Change happens when a person decides a change is necessary in order to reach a goal they want to achieve, uphold a personal value, or make their life better in some way. In short, change happens when a person wants to make a change for their own personal reasons. Making changes in your relationship will require you to identify what you want to change about yourself in order to improve your relationship. If both of you do this concurrently, and it’s based on values or goals that you share as a couple as to what you both want in your relationship, then you will likely have the most successful outcome. Sometimes, only one person wants to participate in therapy. If one of you changes, this can also sometimes change the system enough that the relationship improves. But if change in one person doesn’t trigger enough change in the relationship, it is also possible that the person who is doing the work to change will decide that the relationship doesn’t support their goals and values. So, the takeaway here is to approach couples therapy thinking about how you want to change yourself, not how you want to change your partner.