“Marriage is not a competition. Marriage is completion of two souls.”
― Abhijit Naskar
With decades of research and centuries of wisdom about building a healthy relationship, there's no reason anyone wanting a better relationship can't have one.
Nonetheless, if you've been fighting all the time, or are drowning in feelings of contempt or, even worse, apathy, you may have concluded that your relationship is beyond repair. At this point, you may feel totally hopeless.
And it's this hopelessness that ultimately ends relationships, not the actual differences between you. Hopelessness is the cancer that spreads and ultimately destroys relationships.
So what can be done to restore hope?
Consider this: No one is born knowing how to be a partner in relationship.
Many of us lacked examples of healthy relationships in our childhood. How we behave in our relationships has a lot to do with our upbringing and our own parents' relationships. When we weren't shown how to love, we wing it based on movies, books, friends and social media. And then things go wrong and we're horribly disappointed.
SO NOW WHAT?
Healthy relationships require sound relationship skills.
Fortunately, even the most seemingly relationally-challenged people can learn concrete skills that can improve the quality of your relationship. And with the help of therapy, you can have new experiences that shift the lens with which you see your partner so you can constructively apply these skills. This will enable you to start a positive reinforcing cycle of learning and growth that will give you hope.
Here's how change happens in therapy:
The first step with couples is to gently get the problems out in the open without feeling attacked. We usually pinpoint the obvious problems in the first session and other ones surface during our work together.
The second step is to identify the main themes behind the surface problems so we can understand the deeper issues that keep the conflict from being resolved. As we go deeper together, while resisting the urge to be defensive or attack, trust and safety will start building.
Now that the themes and deeper issues are safely exposed, the third step is to help you learn to apply the appropriate tools for intimacy, communication, managing anger, and expressing compassion in order to heal the deep wounds that have been inflicted. This last step will allow you to see your partner in a completely different way so you can start loving your partner in a way that works for both of you.
Remember, love is a VERB - it's something you do. Applying these therapy tools over the long term will be challenging but it can also be extremely rewarding.
MY APPROACH TO COUPLES THERAPY:
WHAT I DO:
• I work hard to be caring and compassionate to BOTH of you.
• I help you improve the way you respond to your partner in a way that doesn't offend and also doesn't violate your values or convictions. See "Turning Fights to Intimacy" in Couples Anger Management for a description of how I do this.
• I actively try to help your relationship and the provide resources that you need to solve your problems. This goes beyond just clarifying your problems.
• I am active in structuring our sessions together.
• I offer reasonable and helpful perspectives to help you understand the sources of your problems.
• I challenge each of you about your contributions to the problems and about your capacity to make individual changes to resolve the problems.
• I offer specific strategies for changing your relationship and coach you on how to use them.
• I am alert to individual matters such as depression, alcoholism, and medical illness that might be influencing your marital problems.
WHAT I DO NOT DO:
• I do not take sides.
• I do not permit you and your spouse to interrupt each other, talk over each other, or speak for the other person.
• I do not let you and your spouse engage in repeated angry exchanges during the session.
• I don't stay stuck in the past. Although I may explore how your family-of-origin backgrounds influence your problems, focusing too much on the past makes you an expert about why you're having problems, not what to do to improve things. To reach a better future, we'll stay goal-oriented with an emphasis on the future.
• I don't tell you when a marriage is over. If a therapist declares your marriage dead, find a different therapist.
• I don't constantly say: "Tell me how you feel about that?". That common therapist mantra may prompt lively discussions, but simply sharing polarized feelings rarely resolves problems. Good therapists teach couples how to negotiate their often diametrically opposed perspectives on life.
WHAT I NEED FROM YOU:
• I need you to spend time focused on each other. This can be difficult with work and family demands; however, you only improve when you take time to practice your new skills together.
• I need you to focus more on "self-confrontation" than "other-confrontation". More change happens when you work on yourself than your partner. If BOTH of you work on your part of the equation, change in the relationship takes off.
• I need you to learn to listen even when you disagree with your partner. This will help you (and me) understand the deeper issue and respond in a better way.
(these tools and more are available to current clients under the tools tab):
Some of the specific tools which I offer to couples include:
• Communication (sending/speaking and receiving/listening)
• Anger management
• Relaxation skills
• Using "I" statements
• Ventilation sessions
• Fair fighting techniques
• Family-of-origin mapping
• Love languages
• Love lists
• Caring days
• Sensate exercises
• Parenting guidance
• Strengths inventory
• Affirmation skill building
• Building a shared relationship vision
STRUCTURE BUT NOT A COOKIE CUTTER
There is no simple formula to making a marriage succeed. Each marriage is an once-in-a-lifetime experiment in learning to be flexible and committing to respect another human being's needs as well as speaking up for your own. I will work hard to understand your unique situation and find solutions that fit you.