My Approach to Couples Therapy
Relationships come in all shapes and sizes. This is a very personal topic and one that requires thoughtful understanding of who we are and where we are needing to be true to ourselves and our relationship. Our past experiences shape our current relationships at times, and at other times we are exploring new territory. Either way, we often feel fearful and confused when we enter therapy to discuss relationship issues. I will provide a calm, non-judgemental space to work with you on your relationships. My laid back and friendly attitude will create a sense of ease and my experience in the field will allow all of us to have a calm and productive experience.
In couples therapy it might be helpful to have a male therapist in certain cases. In some cases it’s family therapy that is recommended in addition to couples work. It also may be helpful for me to meet individually with each partner prior to entering into extensive couples therapy after the initial assessment. We will talk about the goals in the relationship and make decisions after our initial visit. Sometimes the goal of couples counseling is to choose to break up. It is common for at least one member of the couple to be clear about wanting to end the relationship, and often times people find it helpful to process that in couples counseling or to bring that to a therapist in a one on one session. Often times the goal is to improve the relationship or even find support during a minor rough patch in a marriage. Rough patches are normal in a marriage and couples therapy is a resource for those times as well.
Improving Emotional Intimacy
Many of us have never been taught how to develop emotional intimacy with our loved ones, therefore it doesn’t surprise me that one of the most helpful aspects of couples counseling is improving authentic and loving communication. Improving emotional intimacy involves consistent practice by both members of the couple to bring honest feelings, and to bring real and genuine needs to one another. There are so many conversations that couples have told me they should have had years ago that can occur in couples work. Even something like a personal sexual fantasy can be kept secret from a partner for years, or deep feelings about parenting styles go undiscussed for long periods of time. Once the authentic and specific details of our emotional life are shared with our partners a few things have a chance of happening and/or improving: 1. Our partners truly get to know who we are deep down and often feel closer to us as a result. 2. We might actually get our needs met if we share who we are and ask for what we need. How can we possibly expect to get our needs met if we are incapable of asking for it? 3. We build a sense of mastery with our partners and improve our confidence as a couple when we meet each other in our most personal places and truly experience unconditional love. Even if your relationship is nearing an ending point, it might be helpful to get all the cards on the table so that each person has all the information they need to make a decision. My job as a couples counselor is to provide a safe space and facilitate this process. I will point out patterns that are appearing and validate each person’s feelings while inviting the couple to be aware of these patterns as well as show up for each other in a new way. Perhaps the way a couple showed up for each other was once natural and easy earlier in the relationship. It’s possible to rekindle that kind of passion and patience for one another in couples counseling.
One of my favorite analogies for codependency is that the codependent person takes the temperature of their partner in order to determine their own temperature. In other words, someone feels how ever their partner feels and is pre-occupied with the state of their partner and their partner’s experience in the relationship. This is an extremely common way of being in a relationship especially when one person in the relationship has an addiction of some sort. When one partner is consistently concerned about their partner’s addiction, a codependent response is a common development over time. However, in many cases, outside of addicted partners, codependency is learned either in our family of origin or in prior relationships. Couples counseling can be an excellent place to learn how to set boundaries, be clear about needs, and practice as a couple how to provide each other with healthy space while continuing to grow the intimacy of the relationship. My experience working with codependency is that it can be extremely reduced and sometimes eradicated completely. Couples counseling is often a safe place to begin working on codependency patterns.