Pretty frequently, people ask me if I think couples therapy can “save” their relationship. Most of the time, with this question, what people are asking me is if they’ll be ok. People want to know that, no matter what the outcome, they will thrive.
There are many issues that drive couples to seek therapy or counsel. Sometimes couples feel that they have drifted apart and aren’t feeling as connected as they’d like. Sometimes couples come to me after some breach of trust; infidelity, financial mismanagement, and manifestations of addiction are common problems. Here, the common thread is an overall gap in understanding either partner’s experience.
Somewhere in the relationship, it became difficult to be honest with the other (and, frequently, with oneself). Feelings, needs, and experiences went unspoken, behaviors changed, and a felt sense of connection waned. Maybe this happened pretty early on in the relationship. Maybe it happened after careers and kids and the routine ebb and flow of life. Understandably, a lot of couples fear the implications of this disturbance in their connection so, they try to ignore it and hope it goes away.
More often than not, these problems don’t just disappear. It’s more common for issues to pick up speed and feel increasingly out of control. Quickly, things can feel incredibly not ok.
Sometimes it’s a matter of helping a couple shift how they manage conflict, increasing empathy, and fostering a sense of openness to one other. Other times, couples find that they are not well-matched. In this case, the goal is to explore the couple’s options. Is it better for everyone involved if the couple separates or divorces? Is a negotiation conceivable? No matter what the solution, a shift in an intimate relationship can feel scary and unpredictable.
Couples therapy can be an invaluable tool that helps couples overcome their fear, relational obstacles, and doubt. It can help couples get to a place in the relationship where they feel solid and held by one another. And it can help them get to a place of acceptance if the most appropriate solution is to part ways. Couples can find hope and comfort regardless of their decision to separate or stay together.
When a couple comes in for therapy, both members have been experiencing significant pain and distress. It can feel like an immediate decision must be made. One or both members often feel overwhelmed and are searching for a solution that will bring them soothing and relief. It’s best to slow things down. We are most successful in the decision-making process when we have the most comprehensive information; it takes time to acquire the necessary information.
Useful coping techniques are available to every couple so that they can find stability and resource in-between sessions. No matter what a couple’s instigating problem, there are exercises they can practice that will provide containment of overwhelming feelings, enlightenment about a particular issue, and increased patience. Couples therapy won’t definitively “save” a relationship, but it will foster safety, organization, and hope for whatever is to come. You will be ok.
Love and Be Loved,