How Couples Counseling Can Help
Are you feeling really stuck in your relationship? Are you wondering whether couples counseling can help? We believe that couples counseling can be very useful in shifting relationships from negative and destructive patterns into healthier ways of relating with each other.
When a couple is really stuck, they’ve generally run into one or more important issues that they just can’t talk about in a caring, constructive manner. For some couples this might look like a downward spiral of increasingly intense fighting. Other couples avoid dealing with the issue because it’s too scary or difficult - they gradually become more distant and apathetic. Both of these patterns can be really damaging to the relationship.
Issues like these have deep, sometimes hidden, emotional meaning for both partners. This leads to a basic problem: it’s really difficult for me – and most people – to listen to my partner in a caring, compassionate way when I’m afraid that something deeply important to me is at risk. I’m much more likely to be defensive and reactive. My partner is likely to be defensive and reactive in return. When both of us are defensive, we’re likely to say and do things that increase the distance between us. Both of us end up missing something that we hunger for: to be heard, understood and cared about.
Couples counseling offers a different path. We work with you to increase your understanding and compassion for what matters most to both yourself and your partner. We help you identify and interrupt destructive patterns that lead to conflict and distance. We offer you the structure and support to create an environment that is “safe enough” for you to engage in those challenging conversations that really matter. We help you learn new ways of relating to each other that increase the health of your relationship.
In the early stages of the counseling process, a lot of our focus is on giving both you and your partner the opportunity to be really heard and understood by us. We explore questions like “why does this matter so much to me?” and “why do I get so angry when…?” The emotional energy behind a couple’s conflicts – and the meaning that the conflict holds for each partner – is often rooted in stories that began long before the couple got together. Exploring these connections can lead to each of you having more appreciation and compassion for yourself and your partner.
Over time, we gradually shift from those exploratory conversations toward helping you address your issues directly with each other. Keeping in mind what we’ve learned about what’s really at stake for you and your partner, we help you bring that into the conversation in constructive ways. We also help you track your emotional reactivity so that you can learn to tell when you’d be better off taking a break until you’re feeling calmer and more receptive.
A common misconception about couples counseling is that we’re here to tell you who’s right and who’s wrong. We don’t think that’s our job. What we will do is offer you feedback when we see you doing something that we think might be moving you away from what you really want.
Our goal as counselors is to help you and your partner grow your ability to connect in healthier, more satisfying ways. Whether you and your partner ultimately decide to stay together or part ways, we want to help you move from stuckness toward more understanding, compassion and flexibility.