If you’re one of the lucky ones who came from a very loving, harmonious and healthy family then you probably don’t need couples or relationship counseling.
But you probably wouldn’t be reading this anyway.
Most of the rest of us grew up in families with varying degree of dysfunctions – from mildly unhealthy families to those with severe abuse and addictions. Good or bad, we relate to others based on what we absorbed in our families of origin and it becomes the blueprint we follow for any relationships with our significant others.
The good news is that building and maintaining a healthy marriage is a skill that anyone can learn. This is where marriage therapy comes in handy. A couples’ therapist will help you:
- Identify and become more aware of your contribution to a relationship and your existing ways of relating;
- Explore and practice healthier ways to be with your partner and learn how to turn to each other for support;
- Understand the different styles of communication and different way to express your feelings;
- Figure out how to handle conflicts and fights in healthier ways;
- Learn about you and your partner’s “wounds,” how they get triggered and what to do when that happens;
- See how our thoughts about each other affect our feelings towards each other and how to rekindle love;
- To recognize one’s own needs and develop the ability to communicate those needs as well as ways to handle each other’s feelings.
Let’s look at some of these items more closely.
1. Each Partner’s Contributions to Your Problems.
This is probably one of the trickiest ideas to accept. Most couples who come to me point fingers at their partner and want him (or her) to be fixed or changed. “If only (s)he would stop acting this way (or starts acting that way) everything would be so much better” – they tell me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way. We can’t change another person. Well, maybe we can, but only if they willingly cooperate with us.
What we CAN do however is change our own approach, our own behavior, and then our partner will start changing in response to our actions.
You see, relationships are like a see-saw. You act, your partner reacts. And then you react to your partner’s reaction. And after several years of life together these actions and reactions become so habitual and automatic that you don’t even think about them. Most of the time you’re not even aware of your actions! You only hear those horrible, mean words that your partner is saying, but never hear your own “horrible and mean” words.
This is why it’s so important to learn what you’re bringing into the relationship. How are you with your partner? What role do you play? It’s very hard to see from within as most of us don’t see ourselves the way we come across to others.
A trained specialist can gently point out some of your most unconstructive reactions which contribute to your difficulties as a couple.
Are you ready to take ownership of your part of equation?
2. Healthier Ways of Communication
Most people learn about relating to others by observing and modeling members of their own families, especially parents. It becomes a relating blueprint, so to speak. What did you see and experience when you were a child? Did your parents or caregivers yell? Did they give each other the silent treatment? Were there fights? Did they hit each other? Hurled insults? How did they treat you?
Whatever we experienced as children later becomes the way we communicate with our loved ones (after the initial infatuation and “being-on-the-best-behavior-to-win-you-over” period starts to wear off).
If the ways of relating within your family of origin were not healthy, your current behavior probably isn’t helping your relationship. In therapy, you can learn, experience and practice something new and see how these new ways can affect your relationship. I’m a big fan of the experiential component of therapy because only by experiencing something can we truly learn it.
- Conflicts and Fights.
Conflicts are almost inevitable in close relationships. We bring into a new relationship our whole world of beliefs, expectations, ideas of how marriage (or spouses) “should be,” old wounds and other questionable beliefs. During the first (approximately) 12 years we are readjusting our ways, learning about each other, merging our two worlds, (and probably two sets of relatives) together. No wonder we clash!
Conflicts can be rather damaging for relationships if they often turn into fights where we insult and hurt each other. When we’re unable to resolve the fights and find peaceful outcomes, we accumulate more and more resentment and hurts.
This is why it’s so important to learn the skills of “fair fighting,” conflict resolution and practice the ability to truly understand your partner’s point of view. True understanding means not just hearing the words, but understanding the feelings behind them and our true needs.
During therapy sessions we often “dissect” conflicts and their underlying feelings and issues and learn to express what’s really happening. It helps both partners to move beyond confrontation and animosity, find common ground and build a “couple strength” that allows them to feel more like a team than adversaries.
These are some of the approaches I use in my work with couples. In general, I’m very engaged, active, practical and use tools that are applicable to your situation and personality. Together we look for solutions that work for you.
And in majority of cases, if both partners really want to be together and are willing to do their own work, the relationship can be improved and people will find happiness together.