Couples are often uncertain what to expect from the process of couples therapy. They are not sure of what to expect of the therapist or even if the therapist has any expectations of them.
I have found most couples approach therapy with the idea that you will both share your side of your story and somehow the therapist will assist them to create a happier, more functional, relationship. They expect to learn some new or better skills. However, most people hope their partner will do most of the learning in problem areas.
I believe my primary role is to help you improve your responses to each other without violating your core values or deeply held principles. So that you may know some of my key guiding principles, I have created this document to provide clarity and focus to our work.
Your job is to create your own individual objectives for being in therapy. My job is to help you reach them. I have many, many tools to help you become a more effective partner – they work best when you are clear about how you aspire to be.
Goals and Objectives of Couples Therapy
The major aim of therapy is increasing your knowledge about yourself, your partner and the patterns of interaction between you. Therapy becomes effective as you apply new knowledge to break ineffective patterns and develop better ones.
The key tasks of couples therapy are increasing your clarity about:
• The kind of life you want to build together (Your We)
• The kind of partner you aspire to be in order to build your “We”. What gets in your way to becoming the kind of partner you aspire to be
• The skills and knowledge necessary to do the above tasks
Tradeoffs and Tough Choices
To create sustained improvement in your relationship you need:
• A vision of the life you want to build together (We)
• To have a life separate from your partner (the I) because you are not joined at the hip
• The appropriate attitudes and skills to work as a team
• The motivation to persist
• Time to review progress
To create the relationship you really desire, there will be some difficult tradeoffs and tough choices for each person.
The first tradeoff will be time. It simply takes time to create a relationship that flourishes: time to be together, time to be with family, time to play, coordinate, nurture, relax, hang out and plan. This time will encroach on some other valuable areas – your personal or professional time. Time is essential for meeting each other’s emotional needs. Lack of time together is the single most destructive killer for relationships.
The second compromise is comfort. That means emotional comfort, like going out on a limb to try novel ways of thinking or doing things, listening and being curious instead of butting in, speaking up instead of becoming resentfully compliant or withdrawing. At the beginning, there will be emotional risk taking action, but you will never explore different worlds if you always keep sight of the shoreline. In addition, few people are emotionally comfortable being confronted with how they don’t live their values or being confronted with the consequences of their actions.
The other comfort that will be challenged is energy comfort. It simply takes effort to sustain improvement over time: staying conscious of making a difference over time, remembering to be more respectful, more giving, more appreciative etc. It takes effort to remember and act.
The other effort is even more difficult for some people: that is improving their reaction to problems. For example, if one person is hypersensitive to criticism, and his/her partner is hypersensitive to feeling ignored, it will take effort to improve their sensitivity instead of hoping the partner will stop ignoring or criticizing.
In all these areas, there is generally a conflict between short-term gratification and the long-term goal of creating a satisfying relationship. The blunt reality is that, in an interdependent relationship, effort is required on the part of each person to make a sustained improvement. It is like pairs figure skating – one person cannot do most of the work and still create an exceptional team.