You’ve been fighting a lot lately. You decide a professional might be able to help. A friend gives you a referral and you make the appointment. The two of you drive separately from work, arrive at the calm office, listen to the noise machine whir as you sit side by side scrolling through social media, waiting for the couple before you to exit. When you go in and settle on the therapist’s deep couch she says:
“Tell me what’s been going on.”
How do you answer this question without getting stuck in the content of a hundred small arguments and instead get to the heart of what’s happening?
Couples come to counseling for numerous reasons. Most often, they are in crisis. Some seismic shift has occurred in their lives which has broken their channel of connection and intimacy.
When relationships start, people don’t usually need tools to communicate. The general joy and good feeling between them is enough to overcome awkward moments and tension. But when hard times come, it can help to slow things down.
A therapist can give you a framework to get out of conflict, defensiveness and blame and come back to being fully present and enjoying each other again. The therapist is not there to give advice or take sides; she’s there to offer an experienced and unbiased perspective on how you keep missing each others’ attempts to connect. She can help you find new ways to hear each other again on an emotional level and to cultivate safe space in your relationship.
In order for your therapist to guide you through this process of reconnection, YOU can do three things:
- COME IN WITH CLEAR INTENTIONS: Even if your relationship feels like a confusing mess, think about what you would like it to be. How will you know when your relationship is working again? What do you most need your partner to understand about what you are feeling?
- MOTIVATION: Arriving at some clarity in session about why you two are at odds is great. Yet all too frequently, the moment clients leave the office they forget their revelations and are back to where they were before. If you realized something impactful about where your communication has been going wrong, write it down. If your therapist made suggestions or gave homework on how to change your rhythm with each other, do it!
- FORGET ABOUT FAIR: If you are keeping a tally sheet in your head of arguments won or if you want your partner to make right a perceived wrong, then you are not alone. But that’s not therapy. Your goal of being happy in your relationship again will come faster if you start to let go of the past, let go of any notion of equitability, and instead consider your hopes for moving forward. Underlying what clients’ stated goals are, many times they have a desire to see their partner hurt like they are hurting. Two people in pain won’t get you happiness.
Most couples I see in my office are able to get out of a conflict cycle in 6-8 sessions, if they are able to bring these three elements to the process.
However, the clients who get the most out of therapy understand that relationships require ongoing attention. These clients continue to return to counseling before their relationship hits another high stress point. They use the space they have cultivated with their therapist to check in periodically with themselves and with each other. They prioritize emotional safety and self-care by making therapy a regular part of their time together.