“A crisis is an opportunity for growth”
If you’re like most of the couples that I have seen in my practice, your story may go something like this: You fell in love with your partner and things were going great. Communication was excellent, there was a feeling of partnership, and small quirks that each of you had didn’t seem to really matter that much. Now, suddenly, you realize that things no longer feel that great at all…you may even barely recognize the person you fell in love with, or find it hard to remember what it was like when things used to feel good between the two of you.
At this point, there may be a child or two in the picture, financial or work stresses, perhaps even individual struggles resulting from depression (relationship satisfaction has a big effect on depression levels!) or from childhood insecurities that are being re-evoked by your current relationship dissatisfaction. You may feel stuck in the relationship, wishing you could get out, but afraid to leave- because of the kids, fears of being alone, or financial concerns. Or, you may simply become preoccupied with thinking about which of your needs are not being met in the current relationship, feeling angry or frustrated with your partner for not keeping to his/her end of the bargain (as you see it), or for being the source of the “problem”.
You might feel attacked or blamed, or you may simply be focused on ways in which your partner is to blame, in your book. There may also be betrayals or traumas that occurred in the relationship which are undermining your sense of security and safety, perhaps even causing you to put your guard up in the relationship for fear of being hurt all over again. Having your guard up all the time only leads to a sense of loneliness and distance in your relationship, but the thought of being hurt or rejected keeps it up anyway. You may find that you no longer do anything fun with your partner and that spending time together feels like a chore rather than a rewarding experience.
A marriage counselor, much like an alchemist, must take “raw experiences” that couples bring in and somehow transform them into something precious. Although distressed couples often come into couples therapy exasperated about their struggles, wishing for things like better communication; more understanding; renewed passion; and healing of old or fresh wounds, with the right kind of help, these very struggles can be the key to increased closeness, connection, intimacy, and sense of partnership.
The raw materials of couples therapy are different for each couple- for some, it might be a sense of distance and growing apart, and the loneliness that comes with that. You might be asking yourself, “What’s happened to my relationship? We used to be so close but I can hardly remember those feelings because they seem so elusive right now”. For others, it might be a life stressor that is straining the marriage- an illness, money problems, differences over parenting a difficult teenager, etc. It may even be an individual issue that one of the partners is experiencing (new or old), like a depression after an elderly parent dies, or an undiagnosed issue such as Asperger’s Syndrome or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; I have seen a number of cases in which this type of issue was stressing an otherwise healthy marriage- and the right treatment led to excellent results for the relationship.
Other couples come for couples therapy after an affair. Or after their first child is born, and the roles in the family change. Sometimes it’s disagreements over problems with the in-laws. It may even be something as simple as communication styles that used to work, but are no longer effective.
It’s not uncommon for one partner to want to attend couples therapy, while the other partner resists. This can be a challenge, but sometimes one partner can help the other partner decide to come in- with the help of the marriage counselor. You can also read my article, Individual or couples therapy, about whether individual or couples therapy is indicated as the treatment of choice for you.
Whatever your struggles, sometimes it just takes an outside person to help you get a fresh perspective, to coach you on new skills, or to help a marriage get through a tough time. Learning to be more vulnerable with your partner and to stop negative cycles of interaction that bring you apart can give you the tools to help each other use moments of being “triggered”, misunderstood, or angry to create increased connection rather than conflict or distance. I use many techniques from Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) in the couples therapy sessions that I conduct; you can read more about Sue Johnson’s groundbreaking treatment approach here: Dr. Sue Johnson.
Many people come in to marriage counseling feeling desperate or hopeless about the relationship- only to find that, no matter what the crisis was, working through it in the couples counseling actually brought some really important hidden issues into the open, and created a much deeper closeness than before. It’s one of those things that has to be experienced in hindsight- you have to just take a leap of faith and trust the process, not knowing where it ‘s going to lead, but somehow trusting that with enough hard work, the pain and struggle can turn to something valuable and precious.
Don’t wait any longer…all it takes is that first step of picking up the phone and reaching out for help for changes to begin!