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How to set goals for couples therapy

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Goal setting is one of the most important things for couples who want to start counselling. However, a lot of couples struggle with the idea of setting goals. Here's some advice on how to identify the things you want to change in your relationship:

Why are couples often so reluctant to set goals for therapy?

Very few couples actually sit down and articulate the change they want to achieve through couples therapy. Each couple that comes to see me for a session gets assigned the homework to write down their individual goals for the session and bring these with them. An individual goal is important, because most relationship problems come from the fact that couples are too focused on each other and not enough on themselves. If you don't focus on yourself enough, you will start expecting your partner to make you happy, and this rarely works in the long run.

6 questions to ask yourself in order to set your goals for couples therapy:

It is necessary to set one goal for yourself, consisting of only one sentence. You will experience goal setting to be much easier if you start by asking yourself questions which put your relationship in a new focus. Here are six examples of such questions:

  1. What do you hope to experience and accomplish in your relationship?
  2. In what ways do you want to improve your relationship?
  3. Are there any habits of yourself that you want to change?
  4. What relationship patterns do you want to improve?
  5. What skills would you like to learn?
  6. What are the things you can change about yourself, in order to improve your relationship?

Pick one of these questions that you are the most motivated for. Then use the following questions to fine-tune whatever comes to mind:

How to fine-tune your goal:

After picking one of the above questions, fine-tune your goal by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Write down the first answer that came to mind for you. Then ask yourself: Is it realistic? Is it achievable? Is it about you? If it is not, then rewrite it here in a way that it is.
  • Make sure it is worded positively. Don't write about things you want less of. Instead, write about something you are striving toward. For example, instead of writing "I want to feel less misunderstood", you could write "I want to feel understood".
  • Next, make your goal as specific as possible: The term "understood" could mean for you "connected" or "feeling a sense of belonging". Try to identify the specific goal you have for your relationship, in order for you to be happy.

How are the goals used during therapy?

Setting individual goals helps couples to focus on themselves and clarify issues they want to work on. It enables each partner and the therapist to evaluate the progress toward their goals. Gaining insight into what you individually want in a relationship always produces immediate change. Learning to focus on yourself while you are in a relationship is one of the most difficult challenges in life and in the same time on of the most rewarding. It is an intentional choice to continue to nourish your own identity instead of just the partnership identity you have. In couples therapy you can learn to understand what it is that you need in order to feel happier: Maybe you need to spend more time with yourself, so that you can learn to love yourself more. Or maybe you need to spend more time with your friends than with your partner, so that you can feel more independent. Staying focused on your own goals in life while you are in a relationship is something you can learn in couples therapy: This is why setting an individual goal for yourself is so important for counselling.

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About me:

I'm Natalie Marby, an English speaking therapist in Hamburg, Germany. I am half German and half British and I offer couples therapy in English, especially for expats living in Hamburg. To contact me, you can send me an email or call me: +49040 46090233. (Please don't forget to send me your phone number and the times I can reach you). I look forward to hearing from you!

More information:

Learn more about my fees and the location of my office.

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