Swinging relationships, as all relationships, require constant work.
As gratifying as it is, the lifestyle can challenge a couple on multiple levels. It can test your trust in each other, strain communication and potentially bring you face to face with your own insecurities.
Having a professional on your side, to help you have constructive conflicts, work through the issues and not only resolve them, but grow from them, can be immensely helpful in building a more stable and loving relationship for you and your partner.
When to Look for A Relationship Therapist?
Couple’s usually wait for the problem to occur before they consult the therapist.
When there is no obvious problem, or the couple trusts their capacities to handle challenges on their own – what is the point of reaching out?
So, most couples wait for the storm.
Someone breaks the rules. Jealousy issues. Body insecurities. Kids find out about swinging. Erectile dysfunction. A partner opens up about their bi-curiosity or bisexuality. Judgmental family. Guilt and shame around living a “double life”. A partner wants to take a break from swinging.
These are some examples of the issues, challenges or emergencies couples face in the lifestyle that bring them to the point of wanting to consult a qualified relationship therapist.
Though therapists can and do help in the moments of crisis, most therapists would advise you come when you notice the first signs of turbulence instead of waiting for the storm.
Therapy can help prevent the crisis, or build your capacities to handle it.
For those just getting into the lifestyle, therapy can be a context for exploration and negotiation. This is where couples can bring their differences or shared preferences, agree on the communication, rules and boundaries.
How to Pick a Therapist?
Before you go looking for a therapist, start with understanding your own needs and expectations from the therapist and the therapy process.
- What is the reason for contacting a therapist?
- What would you like to explore with the therapist?
- What are the results you would like to get from therapy?
- What would you like the therapist to be able to do?
- What are the qualities you are looking for in a therapist?
- What kind of experience, background or education would you like your therapist to have?
- How much time are you willing to devote to therapy?
- How much money are you willing to invest into therapy?
- Where would you like therapy to take place? (In-person or online?)
- How often would you like to meet with the therapist?
Each partner should answer these questions on their own before they rejoin to discuss them.
They can then, find the areas of agreement and disagreement. It’s important that the choice of a therapist is not one-sided. The “search filters” you use in looking for a therapist need to be the matter of consensus between you and your partner.
If you are a therapy first-timer, the boatload of therapy approaches and specializations is likely to be very confusing.
In fact, you may be reading this article because you stumbled in the process of finding a therapist.
Instead of investing energy in assessing the effectiveness of many approaches, here are a few more constructive things that you can do:
Look for referrals within the swinger community
Other people’s experiences with therapists are often a more valuable input on their work than their well-constructed professional profiles. To better understand other people’s experience without asking them to disclose the issue that brought them to therapy, you may ask them?
- What are the therapist’s characteristics that you appreciated the most?
- How does/did the therapist help?
- What challenges do you feel this therapist could be helpful for?
It’s important to know that most therapists will not accept to see people that are close to the people they already have as clients. So, if your close friends recommend you a therapist, the chances are that their therapist will not accept you as clients. Still, they may know someone they can refer you to. Therapists usually have their close network of colleagues they feel comfortable recommending.
Narrow the Search to Your Area
Look for the therapists close to your work and home. The logistics around organizing sessions will be much more simple if you can spend less time in commute. Cross-check their names with the filters you previously came up with. Create a list with 5-8 therapists to call and “interview” together. You can ask them about their experience with the challenge you are dealing with or with the topics that are relevant for you.
- Do you have experience in working with couples in the swinging lifestyle or non-monogamy?
- Do you practice a “sex positive” approach?
- What are some of the biggest challenges that you have noticed people experience?
- How do you help couples work through the challenge?
- How would our sessions look like?
Some therapists will offer a free phone call or a free consultation, and some therapists will require you to book a session.
Therapist Selection Guidelines
Therapists have different educational backgrounds, diverse specializations and experience.
In your search for a therapist, you will see a lot of letters behind their names, such as Psy.D, LPC, LMFT, LCSW, etc. They speak of their educational background and licensing. The best way to truly understand what they mean, how they affect a therapist’s approach to clients and whether they are relevant to your challenge, is to schedule a call with a therapist and ask them.
Do not mistake therapist’s lack of online presence for the lack of expertise, and vice versa.
In fact, there are many excellent therapists that do not invest in their online presence. They get their clients through referrals. Just because some therapists have a better online presence, doesn’t mean that they are a better choice for you.
The best way to really judge whether the therapist is the right match for you is to try them out.
Sometimes, you may really need to kiss a few toads before you find the right match. Some therapists will be a poor match not because they lack expertise, but because of the way you feel in their presence. Just like with dating, you often need to “click” with your therapist before you invest in the relationship.
It is always useful if therapy costs can be reimbursed.
Therapy is relatively expensive (average $60-$120 per session). If getting a reimbursement is an important factor in making the choice, consult your preferred therapists and your insurance agency.
How to Know That You’ve Picked Well?
You are the judge of whether you’ve picked well. Reflect on your own experience. How does it feel to work with the therapist? Evaluate your gains from therapy. Do you notice any positive changes?
Therapy usually takes more than a few sessions to “work”. Most challenges you bring to therapy took some time to develop, and though you may get some new insights on the very first session, it’s unrealistic to expect them to magically change in an hour.
Understanding each other and resolving challenges, even in a therapy setting, requires patience.
Still, you may quickly notice some small but important positive changes, such as the improvement in the way you and your partner are listening to and communicating with each other.
“Signs” a therapist is doing a good job
A therapist is asking questions and checking for understanding, instead of assuming they fully understand your background or challenge.
A good therapist will not act as if they can read your mind. They don’t assume they know the meaning of the labels you use to explain the problem–they ask questions to explore the ways you see, feel or think about the challenges.
A therapist is making sure that both of your voices are heard, instead of favoring one partner’s point of view.
A good therapist will provide room for both partners to express their thoughts and feelings. They will not neglect or silence one of the voices. They are likely to do the opposite–they will call out the silent voices to speak up.
A therapist is open-minded and non-judgmental.
A good therapist will not pass on judgement on what’s right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable, moral or immoral. They will strive to understand how the choices you make affect your relationship and will help you work with you in a direction that improves the overall quality of your lives.
A therapist guarantees confidentiality and is clear and straightforward in their communication of the rules and the boundaries of the process.
A good therapist will not publicly speak of their work with other clients or share their process with interested parties unless the clients have given them a permission to do so. They will make sure that you are familiar with the logistics of the process (scheduling and cancellation policies, location and payment) and the structure of the process. They do not make ad hoc exceptions without consulting with you beforehand.
A therapist encourages you to explore your own solutions instead of deciding for you.
A good therapist will use your strengths as a couple to identify ways to explore and/or resolve challenges. They will not impose their own solutions as the right ones, or claim to know who you are as a couple better than you know yourselves.
A therapist is fully present and attentive.
A good therapist is 100% focused on you. Their therapy setting minimizes interruptions. They actively listen and both verbally and non-verbally show that they are attentive.
A therapist is asking for your feedback and using your input to (re)organize the process or change their approach to working with you.
A good therapist will consider your input valuable. They will not force you to accept their techniques though you find them unhelpful, but will change their techniques to help you work through the challenges you bring into the session. They are not blindly holding onto their approach and disregarding your feedback on what’s helpful to you.
In reflecting on the therapy process, make your own individual criteria count.
As mentioned already – you are the judge of how helpful they are.
Your criteria may include the following:
- How comfortable do you feel in their therapy setting?
- How does it feel to share with the therapist?
- How do their questions and reflections sound? Do you consider them informative, challenging, relevant, empathic (…)?
What informs you of the quality of your choice is going to be somewhat defined by tacit indicators of the overall atmosphere during the session.
Therapy Works Only If You Are Both Willing
Your willingness to change is necessary in this process. Therapy is going to be effective only if you are ready to consider changing your ways.
It is not a process in which a therapist will convince you to behave one way or the other. Instead, a therapist will guide you towards exploring ways in which you can function better as a couple.
Approach it with curiosity and willingness to better understand yourself and your partner.