By Lawrence Kaufman, Florida Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
7301 W. Palmetto Park Road, Suite 201A, Boca Raton Fl 33433-3456
Have you ever had the experience of not being clear about what you and your partner could/ would talk about in a couple session? After awhile, many veterans of couple therapy (and some beginners too) “draw a blank;” they don’t want to rehash what they have already talked about, yet they can’t think of another focus that could open doors to a fresh and revealing dialogue. Below I have listed a number of topics and issues (not in any particular order) that you and your partner could consider talking about in couple sessions. One or more of these points might stimulate another idea, or several ideas, that you might decide to later explore and examine.
This list is not meant to be comprehensive. It contains a variety of possibilities of what to think about, and talk about, with regard to your relationship. In my view, the more comprehensive you are in what you bring up for consideration, exploration, and discussion in couple sessions, the more you will get out of the overall process.
In making your best efforts to make good use of these sessions, you are helping to increase the chances that you will successfully achieve your goals in therapy. You will become truly more intimate with one another as a result. You will end up knowing one another better than a large majority of people in close relationships. In most cases, this will result in a greater degree of happiness and satisfaction with your special bond together. Deeper and long-lasting love, trust, and commitment actually take a lot of work to achieve and maintain. Congratulations on your courage to take this challenging, yet highly rewarding interpersonal and intrapersonal (within yourself) journey of discovery.
Topics, Issues, and Concerns You Can Explore in Couple Therapy Sessions
**The circumstances of how the two of you first met, what first attracted you to one another, what didn’t you like about one another, how you became serious with one another, and how you decided to make some form of commitment to one another.
**The most significant, meaningful, and “shaping” experiences you have had in your lifetime — externally (in relationship to your partner, family members, friends, and others) and internally (within yourself — especially on an emotional level) in the past.
**If you have one or more children: The nature and quality, and challenges and joys, of your individual and joint relationships with your children. Similarities and differences with regard to your child-rearing practices, philosophies, and goals. How much do you see eye-to-eye in the ways in which you discipline, guide, and support your child/ children? How coordinated and “on the same page” are you with regard to how you raise and relate to your child/ children? How fairly distributed are your responsibilities in caring for and “raising” your child/ children? Is one parent much more actively involved with relating to your child/ children? If so, how do you feel about this?
**How similar and compatible are the two of you in terms of financial priorities, values, ethics, and goals? How much do you trust one another with regard to money issues? To what extent do you have separate or joint financial accounts, resources, and budgets? How have you been influenced by your parents and “significant others” in your life with regard to your approaching and handling money related issues?
**How good and satisfying (or not) is your shared sex life? To what degree do you have consistent feelings of attraction and desire for your partner? To what degree are your sexual energies diverted away, or displaced from your partner onto another outlet or focus? (As with affairs, pornography, masturbation, or paraphilias [formerly called perversions]).
**The nature and quality of your relationships with your own and your partner’s family members. This includes in-laws (or their equivalent) and a child or children from previous marriages/relationships. How do these relationships have an impact on your current relationship?
**The impact of behavioral (process) addictions and compulsions (including gambling, shopping, spending, exercising, and compulsive sexuality) on your marriage/ partnership.
**The effects of your childhood development, upbringing, and experiences — including the quality of the parenting you received, and the security of the emotional attachments you established — on your current relationship. (Consider here such issues as abuse [sexual, physical, emotional], neglect, deprivation, and other damaging and traumatic experiences.)
**The effects on you, and your partner, of previous marriages and other important romantic relationships in your life.
**To what degree do you share mutual interests, hobbies, activities, passions, and personal philosophies? How compatible are the two of you with regard to how you spend your “spare” or leisure time? How much, or how little, quality time do you actually spend with one another?
**The role(s) of individual friends (That is, friends of only one partner.) on your relationship. How much do you approve or disapprove of, are jealous of, resent, feel relieved or threatened by these relationships? What difference does it make to you if your partner’s friend is of the same or different gender, or sexual orientation, as your partner?
**The role(s) of shared couple friends on your relationship.
**If you live together, how comfortable and satisfied are you with the sharing of household responsibilities? How fair do you think is the current distribution of responsibilities? (That is, do you think your partner does his or her fair share?) To what degree do you feel taken advantage of — and feel resentful about this — or feel guilty? How pleased are you with the current arrangement where one partner may take more care of outside (of the household) responsibilities while the other may take more care of inside (within the household — your living space) responsibilities?
**How compatible or incompatible are the two of you with regard to religious and spiritual practices and beliefs? How much does this affect your shared life together?
**How compatible or incompatible are the two of you with regard to political, religious, social, and cultural attitudes, beliefs, and practices?
**How involved are you in the other’s work life? What are the consequences — good and bad –of your being involved in a business together?
**How emotionally intimate are the two of you with one another? For example, some couples in their relationship are like roommates or “two ships passing in the night,” while others are best friends, soul mates, confidantes, and/or deeply emotionally connected to, and bonded with, one another.
**The impact of one or both partners’ psychiatric disorder(s). (For example: bipolar, compulsive, phobic, eating, or other psychological problem) on your joint functioning?
**The impact and effects (short-, medium-, and long-term) of medical problems and complications, diseases (acute, chronic, life threatening), disabilities, serious injuries, surgeries, and psychosomatic conditions.
**Your similar or different (compatible or incompatible) attitudes towards, and relationships with, pets and other animals.
**Your interacting sensitivities. (That is, you may have very different — sometimes opposite — habits, attitudes, beliefs, and values that clash with one another, and are a challenge to live with on a day-to-day basis.) For example, one of you may be more organized, the other disorganized; one may value punctuality (consistently being on time, and not keeping the other waiting) while the other may be more casual or “flexible” about time.
**What is the impact of your differing (different) priorities with regard to the care and protection of your body? How similar or not are you in your attitudes, values, and behaviors with regard to recommended and prescribed treatments and preventative medical and dental care? Does one of you give considerably higher priority to bodily related issues, such as grooming, weight, eating habits, exercise, and physical fitness? Does one wear a seat belt in a car, and the other doesn’t? Does one partner drive a car in a much more cautious and safe way than the other? How do your different lifestyle choices, decisions, and priorities affect your relationship?
**What have been the most important and influential effects of the differences you both brought into your current relationship from your: family of origin (the family you grew up in); extended family (relatives not living in your household); family’s culture and subculture; country of origin; religious and spiritual upbringing, etc.?
**To what degree do your attitudes and beliefs about your gender identity (male or female) and sexual orientation (gay or straight; homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, or heterosexual) affect your partnership? To what degree are your relationship roles and expectations affected by being either a man or a woman?
**Personality characteristics, behaviors, attitudes, values, styles, and nonverbal behaviors that you particularly like and appreciate about your partner. These are things that you may take for granted and not usually comment on or talk about. (For example: Aspects of their appearance — as with how they wear/ keep their hair, the clothes they wear; the sound of their voice; the ways in which they smile and laugh; the ways in which they touch you; etc.)
**How compatible or incompatible are the two of you with regard to your health and eating habits, and bodily care and hygiene? What are implications of this on your attitudes and feelings towards one another?
**The recreational, social and other activities you currently or used to enjoy together.
**The smaller interactions of daily life (often so much in the background, and taken for granted, that you are not particularly aware of when they occur) that make your life together so much enjoyable, secure, and meaningful — or miserable, unsatisfying, or frustrating.
**To what degree have you planned for your retirement?
**To what extent have you prepared (emotionally, financially, etc.) for your future together and alone? What are the things (large and small) that you would miss the most about your partner if he or she suddenly died or left you? How would your life and lifestyle change as a result?
**Practical arrangements you have made, or need or want to make, in the event of the (sudden) disability or death of your partner? For example: wills; advanced medical directives; beneficiary accounts; life, long-term care, and disability insurance; funeral arrangements. How do you feel about talking about these difficult, emotionally demanding, and often taboo subjects?
**Changes you would like your partner to make. Changes your partner would like you to make. changes you would like to make in yourself.
**If you are not currently living together, how does this affect your relationship? Do you have significant differences with regard to how committed you are to maintaining this relationship? (Does one or both of you “have one foot out the door”?) If applicable, what has been the impact on you of having been separated from your partner in the past?
**How satisfied are you with your sex life? What do you like and not like about it? What would you like to do more of, or less of, or do differently? How has the quality of your sex life changed (for better or worse) over the months or years? If you are not currently having sexual relations with one another, or having sex infrequently, how do you understand this? What could you do to help yourselves in this regard? How much do your feelings of embarrassment and/ or shame (or your strong feelings with regard to maintaining your personal privacy and solving your own problems) prevent you from getting the professional help that you need in this area?
**How satisfied are you with your shared social and recreational life? What would you like to keep doing, do more of, or do less of? What else would you like to do that you haven’t done before?
**Your different relationships and reactions to the technology interests of your partner. For example, some partners clash over the use (or overuse) of computers and Smart Phones.
**Differences you might have with regard to psychological “mindedness,” capacities, or motivations. Do you have the sense that the two of you are growing at about the same rate or pace emotionally and psychologically — or is there a widening gap between the two of you? Do you have significantly different attitudes and beliefs about being in psychological counseling or therapy (alone and together)?
**To what degree are the two of you “on the same page” with regard to how much you like/ prefer to stay at home or go out? How compatible are the two of you with regard to preferring more alone time or together time?
**How would you characterize (assess, describe) the role of power (including control and influence) in your relationship (as with who is more in charge, makes important decisions, makes more money, is more emotionally dominant)? How do you feel about the present balance of power in the relationship? What problems do you have together over these kinds of issues?
**Where do you stand with regard to your partner’s and your own use of alcohol, nicotine, prescribed and unprescribed drugs? How much conflict do the two of you have over your differences in this regard?
**The dreams that you have while you are asleep can provide a fascinating, revealing, and interesting window into your unconscious mind. (Note: In my view, most of what happens in the mind is below the level of consciousness.) How much do you share and talk about your dreams with your partner? How much do you know about your own and your partner’s inner world? How much does each one of you know about the unconscious images, stories, and hidden memories, wishes, fears, and fantasies contained in your dream life? How much are you motivated to know about these things?