Attending couples therapy doesn’t mean that your relationship has failed. In fact, those who are willing to go through the process stand a much better chance of resolving their issues than those who don’t. It’s entirely normal to experience moments of stress in any kind of relationship – romantic or otherwise. It can be the result of grievances that have escalated beyond your ability to resolve, a difficult life decision and even infidelity. It isn’t so much of an issue that we experience problems at all, it’s a given that we will encounter emotional challenges throughout our life. What matters is how we respond. The good news is that couples therapy has proven highly effective in helping resolve the inter-personal disputes that lead to stress and requires far fewer sessions than individual therapy to see positive results. Couples therapy doesn’t make you immune from experiencing hardships, but what it does offer are the skills to act with greater awareness when faced with those situations. By making the commitment to improve your ability to understand, communicate and trust, you’re then better able to create a successful, long-lasting connection with your partner. Here’s how couples therapy can help your relationship:
It may sound obvious, but having a solid understanding or at the very least enough understanding to meet each other’s core needs is a must. Relationships are, after all, a continuous process of getting to know one another, so it would be unrealistic for you to know every facet of your partner’s character. However, even this can prove to be a stumbling block for some people, as they’re either unsure of how to take an interest in their spouse or open up about themselves. They might lack confidence or be guarded due to being scarred by past relationships. Getting to know your partner in a therapeutic setting allows you to do so in a safe environment, and one in which you’re encouraged to be honest with one another without the fear of judgment. One of the most effective short-hand ways of creating this bond between you is through getting to know your partner’s love map i.e. their wishes, worries, dreams and joys. Through learning what motivates each other, it enables you to empathise more deeply with your partner’s wants and needs.
Communication is the lifeblood of all good relations. However, the problem lies in that although you think you’re saying one thing, your words can often be interpreted in completely the opposite way. This inevitably leads to inflammatory situations and standoffs, in which each party feels they’re right. In a couples therapy setting, you’re encouraged to become mindful of the language you use with one another to avoid these kinds of dramas. One of the most effective ways of disarming these trigger points is through the use of the ‘I’ statement. By taking responsibility for your own feelings in a neutral manner rather than using an accusatory ‘you’ form of communicating, it allows you to express yourself without causing the other person to adopt a defensive stance. An example of this might be, ‘I feel that when (situation) happens, it makes it very hard for me to (feel/perform). Can we find another way?’ This type of exchange is also typically known as ‘non-violent communication.’ Getting used to relating to each other in this way might feel a little awkward at first, but with practice will come to feel quite natural.
In cases where trust has been broken in your relationship, couples therapy can help facilitate the rebuilding process. If, for example, you’re struggling with betrayal, you’ll be guided step by step towards re-establishing your connection with your partner. This requires providing full disclosure of events from both sides, as even in cases where there is an obvious offender, a proper understanding of the issue must be gained to help rationalise what has happened. You’re then both encouraged to express and let go of your anger, as there may be feelings of resentment on the part of the offender just as much as there might be justifiable anger with the victim. As you move forward onto the commitment stage, this is where you will make agreements about what you expect from one another and would be an ideal oppurtunity for you to put the ‘I’ statement into practice. The final rebuilding of trust is based on forgiveness, which can be offered and accepted in an instant, but ultimately takes time to heal. From that point, it is the responsibility of you both to treat your relationship as a fresh start, free of resentment, being fully transparent with each other about how things will be from now on.