Most of the couples who call me for help are wanting better ways to talk to each other.
The presenting problem is, "we fight all the time". That one is easy. People who fight all the time are fighting to win.
It impossible to be married and win. For every winner there is a loser. The marriage can’t work if there exists a winner and by result of this, a loser.
The marriage must be a partnership to work. Therefore the marriage is about negotiation. Everyone must get something. The conversation must therefore be about, "What did I do wrong?", rather than "what did YOU do wrong?"
Couples call me because someone is lying. This usually concerns issues of infidelity.
Many people who call me concerning this problem are in crisis. They JUST found out that their partner is cheating. They want to see someone NOW!
Though I understand the sentiment, this is a really BAD idea!
Infidelity is a specialty. It requires help from someone who understands that it is NOT about the marriage. It MUST get talked about, and there are steps to take to put things back together. So in a panic, it is unwise to see just anyone who is available.
It is important to see someone who understands the issues and how to help people get past the crisis.
And, by the way, many people want "the therapist next door”. The “therapist next door” may not be an expert in this arena. The point is to research who is best suited to treat the problem at hand and go where the help is the best. All therapy is not alike.
A very important part of good therapy is the tracking of emotional patterns that lead people to make the emotional decisions that they make.
Good couples therapy should start with a thorough history. Having couples in the room together when this history is taken helps each of them to see the other in a new light. It helps partners to develop understanding about who they married and how their partner made the decisions they made.
So couples come to learn how to talk to each other. They come to learn who they really married and then how to make better emotional connections with that person.
Some couples get couples counseling because their fights about the children have infiltrated the couples realm. They were fine before the kids came. Having children changes everything.
Couples come to learn how to be parents AND preserve their couples relationship. They come to learn teamwork around the kids and about setting boundaries necessary to preserve their relationship as mates.
Couples may call for help when parents age or there are other outside stressors to the marriage.
Couples may get into trouble when the last child leaves home. They are suddenly back where they were before the kids came and they don’t know how to be together.
Sometimes couples call for prevention. They want to learn how to preserve a good relationship.
Couples therapy done correctly can be invaluable and a good protection from divorce. It must be balanced - not neutral but balanced. The therapist can’t take sides. It needs to be optimistic and done by a therapist who believes in marriage and has been doing it well for a long time, themselves.
Good couples therapy teaches people how to make decisions based on what is good for the RELATIONSHIP while helping them to get individual needs met at the same time. It honest negotiation skills.
Many therapists say that they do “couples” therapy when, in fact, they don’t. Putting two people in a room and talking to them as if they are individuals is not couples therapy. Good couples therapy helps people to connect to each other. It is a different skill set than asking individuals how they “feel” about things rather than asking how they think they Affect each other.
Good couples therapy both strengthens marriages and helps people avoid divorce.