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Have Your Considered Trying Couples Therapy?

Steven Losardo, LMFT

We devote our resources such as time, money, and talents to cultivate our careers. We learn, prepare, practice, learn in real-time, and repeat. Meanwhile, as personal lives overlap, and with no shortage of self-growth options, we similarly devote our resources to self-improvement. In the process, we overlook the importance of our most intimate relationship- marriage. 

We will spend resources on things like losing weight or joining a gym to look damn good for our wedding day. However, often we spend little to no money cultivating the foundation for a successful relationship and yet commit “until death do they part.” We neglect the health of our most important relationship, assuming it will work automatically. There is truth to our thinking automatically. Unfortunately, automatic thinking occurs from 5:1 negative to positive in these relationships (Gottman, 2017). That’s a wedding gift for you!  This storyline is very familiar. Well, until it is too damn late!

There is this point when partners look to share their most vulnerable parts. Yet, they learn pretty quickly, neither has much of a clue what to do when it happens. With resources spent on professions and self-growth, they gloss over relational education. Well, minus the “I am not going to be like my Dad or Mom” reflection point. Later they learn, “I am just what I did not want to be in a relationship, my parent.” This plot is so prevalent and yet avoidable with the use of premarital or couple therapy. Unfortunately, many are unaware premarital therapy exists. Even worse couple therapy is still viewed with a negative stigma. Marital therapy is only for when the couple really has problems, right? Well, we need to change that narrative. Here are six reasons starting couple therapy makes sense for all who commit “until death does they part.”

It Works!

Couple therapy works, and it works well! About 70% of couples report that couple therapy helped them. 

Quick tip: couple therapy is a specialty like your periodontist is to your dentist. A great dentist can make for a lousy periodontist. In a similar way, an individual therapist can be a lousy couple therapist. So be sure to ask your potential couple therapist about their training! Also, 30% of the success in your therapy is the relationship with the therapist (Sprenkle and Blow, 2004). If your couple therapist is not a good fit for either of you, try another one. Unless it is painfully obvious, you will not know after a “30-minute interview.”  A therapist does not practice their craft to be interviewed by you. They practice being an instrument of healing for you. 

It Is Too Easy To Wait Too Long To Get Help

Research by Dr. John Gottman (2017) indicates that most couples have been experiencing problems for six years before making the call! Six years! The issues that bring couples to therapy tend NOT to go away independently. Couple therapists are trained to help you and your partner listen, think differently, feel differently, and behave differently (Gurman, & Fraenkel, 2002).  That’s how change happens!

Quick tip: Problems certainly do not improve by sweeping them under the rug. The sweeping approach is that ELEPHANT in the room. Every time you bring up the summer trip to the shore in 2015, cleaning the bathroom, differences in handling finances, or INSERT your standard problem here a conflict ensues. You will know you are here when you have the same fight repeatedly (Gottman, 2017). 

Prevention Is the Best Medicine

Maybe stuff is not TOO bad right now? You notice a small uptick in conflict or a slight decrease in sex time but think of “valid reasons” for them. As you are reading up on climbing the corporate ladder, there is no discussion, so you wait. Juxtaposed to work, you wait until this “small stuff gets bad.” Couples must be proactive about taking care of the sacred space between them. Couple therapy is an effective way to learn how to do that or improve it, depending on what life may bring. 

Quick Tip: Your intimate relationship is much more fragile than you think. There will always be a sly fox at the door (work, kids, aging parents, pandemics, Facebook, pornography) ready to chip away at couple intimacy. 

Someone Is Paying Attention to Your Spouse if You Are Not

It is no surprise that many couples come to therapy in the midst of discovering an affair. The work is multifaceted when it comes to couple therapy for a crisis like this. One aspect is exploring the marital issues that made the relationship vulnerable to this type of crisis. 

Quick Tip: Emotional disengagement is an early warning sign of an affair in the making and other marital problems (Gottman, 2017). Other issues like loneliness, avoiding self-disclosure, or focusing on a partner’s negative traits tend not to happen overnight (Gottman, 2017). Suppose you notice that you are starting to turn away from rather than toward your intimate partner. In that case, a couple’s therapist has the training to assist (Gottman, 2017).

The Fall From Grace

You cannot forgive yourself for what you did when your partner left their two dirty dishes on the kitchen counter for the five-hundredth time. But who’s counting? Did you know sharing space with someone is hard work? Intuitively we all do, and most have experience in this need for space dilemma long before marriage. Yet, dealing with this issue and others that are similar can bring out the worst in us. We can feel stuck, as a part of us wants to embrace acceptance that this reality will not change. The other part may feel ashamed that we show up aggressive and critical like “the fool.”

Quick Tip: One beautiful thing about marriage is that conflict will come. The battle is an opportunity to heal our deepest wounds. As we go face-to-face with our partners, we need help bridge our past history to present-day circumstances. A couples therapist can help navigate how each person’s wounds, triggers, family history, or other romantic relationships intercede these moments. The therapist can highlight how each person’s vulnerability gets exposed and what survival strategies take over (Fishbane, 2013).  Further, couples need and benefit from time and space to sort through what gets stirred within (Fishbane, 2013). The couple therapy room (Zoom Room) is the place to provide the area until a couple can create their own. 

Sh*t Happens

Sometimes couples are in the wake of an issue. This is the “that would never happen to us” moment, and they have no clue what to do now. The demands of the situation (emotional, psychological, biological, social, or spiritual) burn out the resources the partnership has for managing the situation (Gottman, 2017). 

Examples may be: 

  • A partner or child who receives a diagnosis
  • A value not lining up, such as pornography use that was not discussed before marriage 
  • The death of a loved one
  • Job loss
  • Both partners now have remote jobs at home

Quick Tip: This is a crisis, and you need to treat it as such. Couple therapy gives you and your partner space to figure out how to resolve problems with skills such as listening to understand each other’s thoughts and feelings about each other, themselves, and the situation (Gurman, & Fraenkel, 2002). Most often, couples find these situations are not what they seem. There are other benefits as well. For example, in the case of a medical diagnosis such as cancer, an LMFT is trained to serve as a partner/connection (Quarterback) with other professionals as they view the couple systemically (Gurman & Fraenkel, 2002). 

It is way past the time we should all be over the stigma that couple therapy is not helpful and a doomsday event. If you add the total amount you paid for your professional services over the past twelve months, studying how to be in a romantic relationship will probably be the lowest. Most probably, it will not be an expense line item. Instead, there will be costs for financial advisors, fitness trainers, career coaches, or even Fantasy football advisors. Did you know that the health of your intimate partner relationship correlates with your career, finances, physical fitness, and even your Fantasy Football Team? If you put time into your relationship, you may find your fantasy is sleeping right next to you!

References

Fishbane, M. D. (2013). Loving with the Brain in Mind: Neurobiology and Couple Therapy

(Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology). WW Norton & Company.

Gottman, J.  (2017). Level 1 Clinical training manual: Gottman method couple

therapy. Seattle, WA: The Gottman Institute Inc.

Gurman, A. S., & Fraenkel, P. (2002). The history of couple therapy: A millennial review. Family

process, 41(2), 199-260.

Sprenkle, D. H., & Blow, A. J. (2004). Common factors and our sacred models. Journal of marital

and family therapy, 30(2), 113-129.

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