It is always a delight when I have couples coming for therapy not because they are having problems but because they want to strengthen their relationship and learn how to best manage problems when they arise. However, I find most couples come to therapy when they are falling apart and at the point of using a last resort to try to stay together; these folks are in high levels of distress, and many feel like it will be impossible to reach their goal to “get back to the relationship they once had.”
I try to help these folks understand that their goal really needs to be to build a way of relating that wasn’t a part of their repertoire when life and partnership started to challenge them, and that it is possible to do that if they are both committed to the work.
What if we looked at couples counseling like we look at exercise; it’s good for you and important for one’s health. We all know why exercise is good for you. We read about it in our news feeds daily. And, like exercise, if you research the benefits of a healthy relationship you will also find:
- It’s good for your physical health
- It’s good for your mental health
- It promotes longevity
- It promotes a better sex life
- It helps you feel stronger and more resilient to take on stress and has many other benefits.
- IT TAKES COMMITMENT AND HARD WORK
The last point on the list is usually why many people don’t follow through on an exercise plan; other stuff becomes more important and needs the time and attention. For many people exercise isn’t so much fun and is more like a chore. Many will start an exercise plan when they receive not so great news from their doctor, or experience some sort of health problem or distress. The same can be true for couples work. It can be very difficult at times and the follow through can feel onerous; many people wait until there is a warning sign that something is going wrong before they take action to strengthen their relationship muscles, and some wait until someone mentions the D word, divorce.
Where do we find the motivation to do something that is so good for us but takes time, resources, and hard work? Perhaps if we really look deeper into some of the things that can be gained from the work.
For better or for worse, having a plan for the worse
If you knew that you could have a template and a practice to handle the conflict and challenges you inevitably will experience in your relationship, would you commit to working for it? If you also had a personal “coach” to help you stay focused and guide you with what you needed to do to have a strong and healthy partnership, would you commit to the work? Spending some time working in couples therapy can help you have a plan for when you inevitably meet the challenges of “the worse” part in a marriage and partnership. Each partner brings their own history along with its baggage to a partnership and marriage. Partners will trigger each other and stir up a conflict challenge. Many of these arguments get repeated and grow old but never get resolved. Being educated and coached on how to learn about your and your partners’ triggers, where they come from, and how to manage them can help you both feel like you are no longer having to repeat that same old tug of war over and over again. These repeated scuffles and upset take a great deal of time, energy and effort; in my practice I see repeated unhealthy cycles taking up far more time and energy than doing the proactive work of being a healthy partner.
Offers the experience, benefits, and feelings of real love
Couples typically describe when they met as “love at first sight” or having the experience of “fireworks” between them. Chemistry is something that certainly plays a role in people becoming attracted to one another, resulting in the desire to begin a relationship. The honeymoon period can be full of excitement and joy. This initial chemistry wears off after some time. We put our best foot forward and eventually it’s followed up by the other foot. This is the normal path for any relationship. I see many couples who believe this normal path is a message that they are falling out of love. The irony is that this is the exact place where true love begins. Working with a couples therapist can help a couple last beyond the initial brain chemistry that created the attraction. When we see and learn about our partner’s humanness, flaws and all, and learn how to share compassion, empathy, and understanding, we are then practicing true love. Being seen, heard, and understood is what we all desire and is a deep and rewarding place to be with your partner.
Gives the gift of deeper intimacy
When couples do the work of love they learn how to find and feel that sense of closeness most of us desire, emotional and physical. As I work with a couple to learn about what triggers them, how they trigger each other, and how we often use ineffective ways of coping with our triggers,
I coach them on and how to understand and practice heathy ways of communicating. Couples will often begin to share their vulnerability with one another and feel soothed by compassion and empathy. They literally move closer together on the couch as well as figuratively in intimacy. This often leads to more emotional and physical intimacy at home as they practice and feel this deeper level of connection.
Feeds your best support system
I work with couples on seeing each other as their best ally. Through exercises in healthy communication I like to help each partner see the other as their go-to support system, orbest team mate. If both people are contributing to a process of strengthening “the team” the better supported each partner will feel in times of distress. Couples are always describing wanting the other to have their back and the importance of feeling supported. Being a bolster of sorts is most important: we can talk out solutions to problems, vent, share feelings, or sometimes just feeling the physical support of your partners body next to yours in silence makes a world of difference in managing distress.
We can see the good in preparing for problems before they arise, find the strength in building a solid foundation to our relationships to experience the best of love and intimacy, find research to support it being very important to our physical and emotional health, and desire to have the richest connection to our partner. Like exercise, it takes commitment and work. The payoff can be bountiful.