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Couples Counseling: Strengthening Bonds

Sep 6, 2023

Reasons To Try Couples Therapy

Couples therapy can be a useful tool to help resolve a current issue, stop an issue from getting any worse, or simply help a happy couple to work through a difficult period. Quite often the areas addressed involve money issues, health problems, sex, parenting disputes, addiction, emotional expression, conflict resolution, and infertility.

There are many reasons an individual or a couple will consider therapy. Whether it is to deal with a distressing trauma from the past, to cope with unexpected challenges, to combat depression and anxiety, or a more general desire for personal growth and greater self-understanding, therapy can be an incredibly useful tool. Depending on each client’s personal and unique circumstances, they may work with their therapist for anything from a few sessions to several years.

Try To Work Out The Problem First On Your Own

Self-efficacy is the best tool to sharpen, so I am an advocate to first try to work a problem out on your own. Setting aside time to address the issues, understanding each other’s communication style, and advocating for your individual concerns and needs are things to focus on when working through a problem. If both people are motivated to resolve an issue, there is a greater chance of achieving satisfaction quicker. I also remind my clients to be kind and honest with each other when addressing issues.

What To Expect From The First Appointment

When a couple enters into counseling with me, it is considered to be one unit. This means that the unit’s goals must be the same. This allows me to maintain fidelity to the couple “unit,” and not to either partner. For example, if one partner’s goal is to work on marital synergy and the other partner’s goal is to work on an amicable split, a conflict of interest could arise. To deter this, I encourage a “No Secrets Policy.” This means that I will not hold secrets for either partner. I find this is particularly important in creating a space where both partners can feel safe. On occasion, during an individual session, Information may be disclosed that is relevant or even essential to the proper treatment of the couple. If an individual chooses to share such information with me, I will encourage the individual to disclose the relevant information and will provide guidance in this process. If the individual refuses to disclose this information within the couple’s session, I may determine that it is necessary to discontinue the counseling relationship with the couple. If there is information that an individual desires to address within a context of individual confidentiality, I will be happy to provide referrals to therapists who can provide concurrent individual therapy. This policy is intended to maintain the integrity of the couples/marital counseling relationship.

Homework In Between Sessions May Be Assigned

An example of an assignment I may give is to set aside time each week to focus on each other and to talk only about each other (no talk about kids, chores, work, neighbors, friends etc.). This is harder to accomplish than one may think as we often stop focusing on ourselves as a unit, and shift the emphasis and care on those around us. To come to these meetings with the idea of “How am I doing in the relationship?”as the premise to explore, is a good way to stay centered on each other. We quite often forget to ask each other this question and when we do remember to ask, we often avoid the inquiry because of fear of criticism, fear of rejection, or fear of being vulnerable. Couples might avoid discussing the state of the relationship altogether to prevent potential conflicts or uncomfortable conversations.

While these fears are understandable, it's essential to recognize why asking this question can be highly beneficial. By asking this question, you are encouraging open and honest communication, which is vital for a healthy relationship. It shows that you value your partner's opinion and are willing to engage in constructive dialogue. By seeking feedback, you demonstrate a willingness to self-reflect and grow as an individual within the relationship. Asking for feedback demonstrates that you trust your partner's perspective and are open to working on the relationship together. This question opens the door to discuss any recurring issues in the relationship and find solutions collaboratively. The act of asking the question itself can deepen the emotional connection between partners as it shows a genuine interest in their feelings and experiences. By being open to feedback and addressing issues, you show that you are committed to the growth and improvement of the relationship.

Establishing Harmony In A Relationship Comes With Managing Conflict Well

I really like the philosophy and techniques of John Gottman, a world-renowned relationship researcher who has studied the dynamics of relationships for over four decades. There are correct ways in which conflict can bring a sense of connection, peace, and unity to a relationship OR it can act as a corrosive.

Gottman has identified what he calls the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” in relationships. These are four negative communication patterns that can predict the end of a relationship. The Four Horsemen are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. His research has shown that small things often play a significant role in the success or failure of a relationship. When I talk to my couples about this, I focus on the way they fight and encourage them to not avoid conflict, but rather be aware of the Four Horsemen. You can read more about Gottman’s theory in my article “Do You Fight Fair?”

Can Couples Therapy Work For Everyone?

Couples therapy will not be effective if both parties are not sure whether they want to stay in the relationship. They have to both be working towards the same goals. Couples therapy requires both partners to be willing participants, open to self-reflection and change. The couple will get more from therapy if they approach it with a genuine desire to listen and understand their partner's perspective without becoming defensive. Emphasize that you want honest feedback to enhance the relationship and reassure your partner that you value their thoughts and feelings. It's also necessary for both partners to be willing to give and receive feedback constructively and respectfully. This can foster a sense of emotional safety and openness within the relationship, allowing for growth and deeper connection between the couple. Finding a qualified and experienced therapist who can create a supportive and non-judgmental environment to facilitate productive discussions is key.

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