Why couples therapy?
Couples come to therapy for a variety of reasons and it is not always because they are stuck in destructive patterns. It makes sense to seek support to keep a relationship healthy and strong, and learn ways of communicating to bring two people closer together, and increase genuine connection and intimacy.
Most often though, couples come to therapy because they are stuck. They have reached the point where the arguing has become, at least, repetitious and unproductive. If open to exploring what is happening, each person is able to say they don’t feel appreciated by the other. Love making has stopped or is rare and feels like a chore. There is little to no affection. Sometimes arguments have deteriorated into name-calling, berating, hurtful attacks, and threats to leave. Each one begins to wonder how they ever felt the way they once did about the relationship. Therapy is the last ditch effort to save it.
In this case, couples therapy starts with identifying the purpose for coming, meaning the couple has to decide if they are willing to try new things to recover and repair the relationship or if they are there to have as amicable a break up as possible. Whatever the decision, this lays the foundation for willingness toward change.
Recognizing destructive patterns.
Each individual is an expert on identifying the patterns of conflict. The argument feels the same, you’ve had it a thousand times and nothing ever gets resolved. You know who says what, how it feels, no matter the subject. Focus on this. Notice it. Bring it into the forefront.
Once awareness is increased, the first agreement can be made.
Since you are each an expert on your experience, decide that either one can say “stop! I recognize this as our pattern.” Make a joint effort to end the arguing. This is not about resolving anything. It is about starting to practice harm reduction. Make a choice to stop hurting each other further. Walk away from each other. Prepare for this by talking about what taking a break looks like when you are both calm. Maybe you each need twenty minutes. If one of you needs more time than the other, that’s okay.
There are rules here:
• one does not get to chase after the other and continue to argue,
• you must agree to come together again, if only for a few minutes,
• make the break no longer than 24 hours, the fewer the better.
The purpose of taking a break.
Everyone reaches a point where emotions become too intense to continue talking. This is normal. Taking a break from an argument serves the purpose of acknowledging and agreeing the cycle happened again. This fosters an understanding of the problem. Defining how long you will walk away from each other honors not only the need to regroup emotionally and calm down, but the commitment that the break is temporary. This helps rebuild trust. It also reinforces the agreement you have both made to work through it, even if you don’t yet know how.
At this point you bring the conflict into therapy for further discussion.
I help couples dismantle the cycle of hurt, start to feel heard, become closer, and form a deeper connection. Together we can come up with some ideas to try that could help you repair your relationship, set new goals, recommit to each other and begin again to feel more fulfilled in your life together as a couple.