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Archive for the ‘Couple Therapy’ Category

Taking your most recent fight to your couple therapist is probably one of the least likely ways to get much of anything from couple therapy. The therapist is not there to be a judge and decide who is right in your struggles. The therapist is there to teach you new skills so you can both get the relationship you want.

You need to set goals for what you want your relationship to be and learn the skills to get it there. So many people come in to a  couple session and want the therapist to “fix” their partner. In fact, you need to look at what needs changing in yourself, and if both partners  will do this, real growth and change can occur.  You need to be willing to look at yourself and what you learned about relationships and love from your family of origin and see how that is getting in your way in your current love relationship.  All of this takes time, dedication, a willingness to take risks, and often, frankly, a touch of humility.

If you are up for all of this, you could really improve your relationship.  There are very specific skills involved in improving an intimate relationship, and for some people they aren’t  easy to learn. You will grow personally in couple therapy much as you would if you were in individual therapy. If you are interested in how you contribute to the struggles you have with your partner,  you could  gain  a lot and grow a lot and have a much more loving , close and satisfying relationship –  through couple therapy.

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It is clear to me almost the first session which couples are going to get what they want out of couple therapy relatively quickly and who is going to be coming for a long time. It has to do with a willingness to be open to new ideas, a willingness to make changes and to learn new things, and a willingness to make the effort to have this happen.

Another huge piece is to stop blaming your partner and for what’s wrong in the relationship and look to yourself to see what you can do differently.

It takes a certain amount of strength in self, ego strength some people call it, to be able to do this without collapsing on the one hand or blowing up on the other. Good couple therapists know this and provide vehicles for the couple to build personal strength so that they can grow, as partners, in their communication and caring for one another.

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The beginning of good relationships is all about finding out how similar you are and being inside each other’s pockets, or wanting to be, all the time. That’s the passion that cements you as a couple, and it’s usually a wonderful, falling in love time.

But it doesn’t last, not for any couple, and trying to hold onto it when you need to be growing to the next natural stage in couple love development only causes upset.  Of course, it can feel scary and anxiety provoking:  What’s changing here? Why is anything changing? We were great, and now you want to spend time with your old friends? You disagree with me… about what??

This second , natural stage of development for couples includes recognizing that you are two different people, with different interests and even emotional reactions. Often it includes  wanting  to be  on your own more of the time. It’s a time of redefining your self-dom and when it is working well, it comes with the delight of having your partner see you as yourself, the uniques you who is not just a mirror of your partner. It includes being able to speak your different opinions describing your differing feelings and being heard and accepted as yourself. Essential too is being able to hear your partner as being different from you – listening to their perspective and their feelings and working out  what needs to be agreed on, which isn’t everything.

This second stage of couple growth can be difficult to navigate particularly when one person is ready to step forward into it,  and the other is not.  The person who is not ready can easily feel abandoned, frightened, and try to prevent their partner from what feels like moving apart from them.  This is when many people come to couple therapy, and the right therapist can be a lot of help.

Rather than being afraid, I urge you to see this as a growth step that will lead to a much deeper and closer intimacy for you and your partner.

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Couple relationships go through growing stages, and although this is a normal and healthy development, it can be painful to experience and  can sometimes make couples question if they should remain together. This is often why couples often come into therapy as they move through the stages, especially when one person is moving into a different stage than their partner is in.
Let’s look at stages of growth of all couples.

Stage 1 is called Symbiosis:  This is also known as  “The Honeymoon Period” – both people are swept up in  the excitement of their romance. “He (or she) has so much in common with me!” “Everything seems perfect”  and “We are so much alike!” Both are ecstatic with the  mutuality and perfection of the other, “How could anything go wrong?” It’s important to have some  time like this to establish your coupledom.

Stage 2 is called  Differentiating: After a while things happen  that show you are really two different people. Maybe you don’t really like watching  football, and that he has no interest in riding horses. She thinks you are “too” left leaning and liberal and you’ve been proud of that. It’s disappointing and hard to take for the one who wants to feel exactly alike and perfectly suited ( the one that is still symbiotic). It may feel liberating and factual for the differentiating  partner. Here indeed is trouble in paradise. As it happens, one partner  starts feeling restless or smothered. It seems like hanging out with old friends would be so nice.  Doing that sport, hobby (or whatever) that’s been neglected in spending so much of your time together – starts to look appealing.  This is a time when couples often show up in a therapist’s office.

Stage 3 is called Practicing: This is when the couple are both “trying out” being their separate selves while still being connected as a couple. They spend time apart doing separate things. They take the risk to  say they disagree and speak their differing opinions. At this time they are often dealing  with the risks and struggles of dealing with each other’s different needs and preferences , and it is a time of immense personal growth.

Stage 4 is called Rapprochement: This is when the couple is comfortable going back and forth, going away and coming together, returning to each other with ease and intimacy.  They come back to each other refreshed and happy to be connected deeply again.  Their trust is  secure in the other. The each are supporting the other’s self esteem.

Being able to see what stage your relationship is in can be reassuring and useful. Often one person is a little ahead of the other, and pulling their partner to come along with them.  When going  through these stages gets rough, couple therapy is often what is needed.

Good luck with each other! Love is a wonderful thing to cultivate at all it’s stages, and much too precious to neglect or loose.

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It is a sad predicament when a couple fights over who is “right” and this becomes more important than anything else.

Sometimes this happens when the couple have given up on ever being close to their partner, but they are still needy of the other. These people stay together trying to salvage what is left of their wounded egos by having fights about power: who is more right, who is on top.

It can be helpful to have this pointed out, because often the couple is aware of being unhappy but not fully aware of what they are doing. It can be a hard pattern to break, worse when one person is better at self awareness than the other. What is needed is both people to become aware first is when the power fights get started, and second what is underneath their jabbing at the other – what is motivating the criticism and put downs.  Most often it is feeling hurt, and not feeling safe enough to admit it.

In therapy session, if the therapist can demonstrate that safety will be provided, the couple can more likely begin to discover the underlying pain and hurts.  Family of origin habits of relating often show up here. For example: if they learned in their families of origin that no one is interested in their feelings, they are naturally reluctant to say how they feel. They have a whole world of expressing emotion to learn about. Healing individual hurts from childhood are often a part of couple therapy. This can be done quite successfully with the couple therapist in the presence of the partner when there is enough trust in the relationship.  Often seeing your partner working on themselves brings up compassion and understanding; with other couples it may be necessary for each person to see a therapist separately to do their own work safely.

Power fighting sometimes happens at the end of a relationship, and yet alternatively, coming in to a professional can make this unhappy situation the beginning of learning to be truly intimate.

 

 

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People have affairs for all kinds of reasons, depending on who they are and what’s going on in their lives. The important thing to remember is – it’s not true that their insufficient partner caused them to go to another for love, etc. It’s not  their partner’s fault. Being dissatisfied with one’s partner is a legitimate experience, and being unfaithful is one option, but it often turns out badly for all concerned.

If you want to heal your marriage, the unfaithful partner has to deeply understand the amount of damage that has been done to trust, and they have  to know what  being betrayed by your life partner really feels like. Saying your sorry, even terribly, terribly sorry, and that you won’t ever do this again,  isn’t enough. Once lied to, your partner has every reason to question what you are saying now. You have to demonstrate how sorry you really are, you have to show your partner how you have changed in tangible ways so that there is reason to believe what you are saying now. You have to hear what your partner needs from you in order to ever trust you again. Listening to what your betrayed partner wants from you and being very willing to do what ever you are asked is a demonstration of your truly being sorry.

There’s another piece to this problem – if someone has hurt you and you want to trust they won’t do it again,   hurt-er  the other has to understand why they did it. If they don’t fully understand why they acted this way, what’s to keep them from (having the same reasons and) doing it again?  The unfaithful person needs to learn what motivated them to be unfaithful and make whatever changes are needed so they won’t want, or be motivated, to do this again.

This is a complicated process and takes courage on the part of both couples. The hurt-er has to be able to say what they were feeling, and have the courage to take the risk of saying it.   Many people have affairs to escape  the way they feel around their partner, Where they may feel: inferior, not loveable, criticized, or just tolerated. They need to feel the opposite of this and go to someone else to receive positive regard.

The hurt-ee has to have the courage to hear this truth and not collapse. They have to be willing now to work on the marriage and realize they have some changing to do as well as the hurt-er, but not collapse into feeling they caused  the affair.  They can not be put into a one-down position. Both people need to meet each other honestly and realize they both have work to do to turn their relationship around. Sometimes the hurt is over powering and the marriage ends.  Sometimes the affair slips into the past as a wake up call to re-make the relationship into something better than it has ever been.

 

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Here is a very helpful tool to learn for a couple when  disagreements come. I  call it “Minding The Store”, as in, “Is anybody minding the store?”

“Minding the Store” is what is happening when one or the other person remembers to watch the process of what is going on between the two of you, and bring it to the other’s attention. That could sound like “” OH, we’re doing it again -we both need nurturing at the same time so neither of us is in a place to give it, and we are both getting piss-y.” Then, “Do you see it?”

If the couple has agreed to stop the conversation and step back together to look at their interaction at this point, without blaming, the results can be so helpful.  The task at hand is to own up to your needing nurturing, and maybe not asking for same very clearly, or whatever else you see about your contribution. And the other person also does this. Often this can bring on wry, cocked eyebrows or a light laughter, which is always helpful.

Suppose some one of you says  “Maybe we should take turns?” and  the other replies “I feel like a kindergartner, this is too silly.” “But I still want you to listen to me” “OK, lets take turns listening to each other.”  And so you do.

Problems magnify when no one is minding the store, and  that is perfectly understandable. This is your major support person, your life partner, and emotions run high.  Learning the techniques of watching your interaction, seeing it for what it is, and bringing it to the other’s attention is a very useful tool for couples.

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