So you’re contemplating couples therapy? Here’s what you should know.
How to get the most from your couples therapy
by Mary Grogan DClinPsych (adapted from Peter Pearson, Ph.D.)
Most of the ineffective things we do in relationships fall into just a few categories:
Blame or attempt to dominate
Do what the other wants, resentfully
Deny you do what your partner says
These are the normal emotional reactions to feeling threat or stress.
Improving your relationship means learning better ways of responding.
In therapy you will increase your knowledge about yourself, your partner and the patterns of interaction between you. Therapy is effective when you apply new knowledge to break ineffective patterns and develop better ones.
Tasks in couples therapy
The key tasks of couple’s therapy are increasing your clarity about:
The kind of life you want to build together
The kind of partner you aspire to be, in order to build the kind of relationship you want to create
Your individual blocks to becoming the kind of partner you aspire to be
The skills and knowledge necessary to do the above tasks
To create the relationship you really desire, there will be some difficult trade-offs for each person.
Time. It simply takes time to create a relationship that flourishes. This time will encroach on some other valuable areas – your personal or professional time.
Your comfort zone will be stretched. You will need to be willing to go out on a limb to try novel ways of thinking or doing things, for example, listening and being curious instead of butting in, speaking up instead of becoming resentfully compliant or withdrawing.
You will need energy and effort. It simply takes effort to sustain improvement over time: staying conscious of making a difference over time, remembering to be more respectful, more giving, more appreciative etc. It takes effort to remember and act.
You will need to improve your reaction to problems. For example, if one person is hypersensitive to criticism, and their partner is hypersensitive to feeling ignored, it will take effort to improve their sensitivity instead of hoping the partner will stop ignoring or criticizing.
In an interdependent relationship, effort is required on the part of each person to make a sustained improvement. It is like rowing in pairs – one person cannot do most of the work and still create an exceptional team.
How to maximise the value from your couple’s therapy sessions
A powerful approach to your couple’s therapy sessions is for each person to do the
following before each session:
- Reflect on your objectives for being in therapy.
- Think about your next step that supports or relates to your larger objectives for the
kind of relationship you wish to create, or the partner you aspire to become.
Important concepts for couples therapy and relationships
Focus on changing yourself rather than your partner
Couples therapy works best if you have more goals for yourself than for your partner.
Problems occur when reality departs sharply from our expectations, hopes, desires and concerns. It’s human nature to try and change one’s partner instead of adjusting our expectations. The hardest part of couples therapy is accepting you will need to improve your response to a problem (how you think about it, feel about it, and/or what to do about it). Becoming a more effective partner is the most efficient way to change a relationship. The more you believe your partner should be different, the less initiative you will take to change the patterns between you.
Zen aspects of couples therapy (some contradictions)
All significant growth comes from disagreements, dissatisfaction with the current status, or a striving to make things better. Paradoxically, accepting that conflict produces growth and learning to manage inevitable disagreements is the key to more harmonious relationships.
The importance of communication
Communication is the number one presenting problem in couples counselling.
Effective communication means you need to pay attention to:
managing unruly emotions, such as anger that is too intense
how you are communicating – whining, blaming, vague, etc.
what you want from your partner during the discussion
what the problem symbolizes to you
the outcome you want from the discussion
your partner’s major concerns
helping your partner become more responsive to you
your attitude towards the problem.
A couple’s vision emerges from a process of reflection and inquiry. It requires both people to speak from the heart about what really matters to each. This requires respect, openness and persistence. If you are curious about learning new ways of relating, contact us!
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