Published in The Resiliency Center Newsletter in November 2009
As a Licensed Professional Counselor who provides couples therapy, I have had the opportunity to work with couples at various places along their journey together. Sometimes people seek out counseling at the beginning of their relationship as a way to learn tools (like communication and conflict resolution) to prepare them for the inevitable bumps along the way. Sometimes people enter couples counseling in the midst of a crisis – either facing the stress of a normal, developmental change such as becoming new parents, having children reach adolescence, or losing a loved one – or experiencing the pain and upheaval of infidelity, addiction, or illness. Sometimes people seek out help when they are quite close to giving up, feel they have exhausted all other resources, and are moving towards dissolving their relationship.
Whatever the reason people seek out couples counseling, I am privileged to be invited in as that “third person” in the relationship to help couples learn to listen deeply to one another, to connect with one another, and to discover greater joy and love than they imagined possible.
Couples Counseling Improves Communication and Deepens Your Connection
From my perspective, the purpose of couples counseling is to improve communication and foster a deeper sense of connection within the relationship. Dr. John Gottman, a researcher who has studied thousands of couples, can predict with 90% accuracy which marriages will succeed and which will fail. He identifies the most destructive marital communication patterns as criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, calling them the “four horseman of the apocalypse.” He has written several books and encourages couples, among other things, to seek help early, learn how to exit arguments well, and accept influence from one another.
» Learn more at www.gottman.com/marriage/self_help/
In my role as a couples counselor, I help people understand and change these destructive patterns and empower them with tools to stop fighting, listen deeply to one another, and move closer.
In Shem and Surrey’s book, We have to talk: Healing dialogues between women and men, the authors share their insights from leading weekend retreats with hundreds of couples. Their workshops focus on helping couples to identify, nurture, and prioritize the “we” of the relationship. They describe the “we” as that third element of relationship which is distinct from either individual and is shaped by the qualities of connection between individuals. I encourage many couples with whom I work to read this book, as it provides insights into the common dynamics in relationships and helps people understand that disconnections need not signal the end of the relationship. Instead, disconnections can be seen as an opportunity for further growth and reconnection.
Keeping Your Relationship Healthy and Vibrant
I find it tremendously gratifying to support and guide couples as they move closer to one another through consistent attention to the “we” of their relationship. To keep your relationship healthy and vibrant, consider the following suggestions:
- Set aside time each day to connect – through activity, conversation, and giving one another your full attention.
- Prioritize time alone with one another – including scheduling regular dates for play and fun.
- Frequently express your appreciation for one another – for the qualities you love and all the things your partner does to benefit your shared life together.
- Communicate your needs directly and be specific. If you want your partner to wash dishes on evenings when you cook dinner, tell her. If you want to go away for a romantic weekend together, let him know. Silence and mind-reading are far less effective than being direct – and are much more likely to result in disconnection and unhappiness.
- Remember to have a sense of humor about yourself, each other, and the absurdities of life. Laughter heals and brings us closer.