In our intimate relationships what we want most is to connect in a meaningful way and to feel confident that we can count on our partners for love and support. And we want our partners to hear—really hear—what life is like for us and what we need from them. However, many couples have not learned how to let each other know when they need reassurance from each other or when they are feeling disconnected, hurt, lonely, frustrated or unimportant in the other’s eyes. When we try to talk to our partners about upsetting or difficult issues, we often find it hard to say (and sometimes even to know) what’s really on our minds and in our hearts. We may send very unclear messages, say things we don’t really mean, beat around the bush, avoid acknowledging—even to ourselves—our own contributions to the problem, or say hurtful things out of fear or pain rather than because we really believe what we’re saying. Or, perhaps, we say nothing at all. All of these possibilities lead to interactions that are unproductive at best, destructive at worst. In couple therapy we talk about a system—or a dance—in which both partners play a part that contributes to these interactions. For example, the more you blame me for the distance between us, the more I avoid you. The more I shut you out, the angrier you become.
Unlike in individual therapy, where you are free to say whatever you
think and feel without worrying about how others in your
life will feel about it, in couple therapy, of course,
your partner is there and therefore will have his or her
own reactions. For this reason, couple therapy may
feel too risky. However, there are great advantages
that make it well worth the risk. First, if you are
talking to me without your partner present about your
relationship, even if you try your best to represent your
partner fairly and accurately, you can’t completely do
it. We can only see another person through our own
eyes, and, when we are emotionally charged, our vision is
affected. It’s hard for us to recognize our
relationship dance and to really see things from another’s
point of view, even in the safety of an individual therapy
Ironically, the very thing that makes it scary to engage in couple therapy is also what makes it safe and extremely helpful. It’s often easier to say things that you are scared to say if you know someone is there to help you say it and to help your partner hear it. Using the approach of Emotionally Focused Therapy I help partners feel more connected with and trusting of each other by creating a safe environment in which they can begin to hear each other better and recognize and shift the roles they each play in contributing to their particular dance. To do this we examine and work with both their emotional responses to each another and the ways in which they interact with each other.
Couple therapy works best when both members are committed to working on the relationship. When one or both members are considering breaking up or taking a time out, but are not sure this is the right path, Discernment Counseling is more appropriate.
Couple therapy is not suited for these situations:
- *When one partner is coercing the other to participate in the process
- *When there is a danger of domestic violence
- *When one or both are engaging in an active affair