Why Couples Therapy?
Intimate relationships are challenging, especially with respect to sustaining intimacy over the long haul. Marital distress is the single most common reason people seek any type of therapy. It undermines family functioning and is strongly associated with depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse. A satisfying intimate relationship is a powerful antidote to stress, isolation and unhappiness. Couples therapy is much more effective than individual therapy when the key presenting problem is focused on relationship distress.
What Can Couples Therapy Do?
Couples Therapy can help you and your partner sort out your problems and build a stronger relationship. Whether you are in the middle of a crisis, going through a difficult transition, or discovering unlikable behaviors about each other, couples therapy can be a tremendous source of support and growth. Having a highly trained, objective third party helps you work through anger, resentment, hurt and disappointment. Seeing couples emerge from a difficult situation feeling more connected, intimate and committed than they ever thought possible is very gratifying.
Couples frequently get stuck in self-reinforcing patterns that severely restrict their openness to each other—fighting or withdrawal often prevail. Connection and warmth seem fleeting.
In couples therapy, you can learn to:
- Create a more secure connection, which makes it safer for your true self to be seen and heard, as well as restore trust that has been eroded.
- Develop a better repair mechanism to resolve old issues from the past and more effectively work out present or future issues.
- Expand your ability to positively nurture your relationship in a variety of ways (verbal/nonverbal/physically) and be a better friend and lover to your partner.
- Increase your ability to express your voice in the relationship, even when it feels risky.
Simply put, couples therapy should help make the following crystal clear...
The kind of life and relationship you want to build together
The kind of partner you aspire to be in order to build the kind of relationship you want to create
Your individual blocks to becoming the kind of partner you want to be
The skills, knowledge and emotional safety necessary to be successful in achieving and maintaining the above.
How to get the most out of Couples Therapy?
1. Focus on Changing Yourself Rather Than Your Partner
Couples therapy works best if you have more goals for yourself than for your partner. The hardest part of couples therapy is accepting you will need to improve your response to a problem (how you think about it, feel about it, or what to do about it). Very few people want to focus on improving their own responses. It’s more common to build a strong case for why the other should do the improving.
You can’t change your partner. Your partner can’t change you. You definitely can influence each other. Becoming a more effective partner is the most powerful way to change a relationship.
2. Insight without action is passivity.
To create the relationship you really desire, there will be some difficult tradeoffs and tough choices for each person.
- TIME - It takes time to create a relationship that flourishes: time to be together, to play, to nurture, to hang out, to plan, to share with your family, and so on. This time will encroach on some other valuable areas of your personal or professional time, so be prepared. In all these areas, there is generally a conflict between short-term gratification and the long-term goal of creating a satisfying relationship.
- The blunt reality is that, in an interdependent relationship, effort is required on the part of each person to make a sustained improvement. It is like pairs figure skating: one person cannot do most of the work and still create an exceptional team.
- ACTION - Change occurs faster when partners are prepared to take risks of trying to interact differently outside the session. Often it will feel safer to talk about the tough issues in the protected context of therapy. The more you are willing to use your new insights by putting them into action, the more rewarding the changes in your marital dance.
- Effective change requires insight plus action. Insight without action is passivity. Action without insight is impulsivity. Insight plus action leads to clarity and power.
How often do we need to come?
Initially, you would be first seen together as a couple for an extended 75-90 minute session. Then, you would complete a set of extensive questionnaires and I would meet with each partner separately. Next, I would meet with you together to give you feedback and develop a clear treatment plan.
In the early stage of couples therapy, it is more effective to come weekly in order to gain some momentum and see that you are able to begin applying what you are gaining in the sessions to relating differently at home.
When there is less conflict and more safe communication, it is typical to start spreading out sessions to every other week so there is more time to practice and integrate what we are focusing on in session.
How many sessions will this take?
The answer to this commonly asked question is “It depends”. Some couples can resolve a focused issue in just a few sessions; others may take many months when there has been serious damage to their bond with prolonged conflict, fractured trust, or extreme situational stressors. Most couples can accomplish a lot of resolution and growth in therapy during 10-15 sessions. Several key variables that make a difference in how long it takes to create sustained change are:
- High level of competence and training in your therapist (it's just like choosing a surgeon who specializes in one area, better to have a therapist who has much postgraduate training and mainly works with couples!)
- Trusting that your therapist clearly understands both you and your partner; the complexities in your relationship; is nonjudgmental about what makes it tough to change yet is warmly challenging about taking action steps towards clear goals.
- Willingness to let go of the “blame frame” and realize that each partner has contributed to the deterioration of the relationship (this one can take awhile for some!)
- Motivation of each partner to stretch out of their normal comfort zone and take action steps outside the sessions in new ways of relating together (like working out with a trainer once a week at the gym yet doing nothing physical in between; new emotional muscles won’t develop quickly if only used in sessions).