How Can Couples Counseling Make a Difference?
It’s not unusual for a caller to ask me, “Can couples counseling really help us? For many people seeking couples therapy, this is their first venture into any type of therapy. Unchartered waters, if you will. And, their trepidation certainly can be understood.
First, couples often are relieved to know that Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (which we tend to call EFT) is a “brief” model – approximately 10 to 20 sessions. And research has shown that couples often continue to improve after therapy has completed.
EFT is the most successful and research-supported approach – and offers couples a multitude of benefits. If I could boil it down, I’d select the following main strengths:
1.Couples learn to end “endless arguing” and reduce the distance that has come between them.
2.Each partner reaches a new level of understanding of their partner as well as themselves
3.Relationship wounds (acts or omissions that were very hurtful), including infidelity, can be healed
4.Couples learn to communicate differently so that their partner can truly understand their needs
5.Couples develop ways to stay connected into the future
The Never-Ending Arguments . . . Or the Silent Distance We Now Feel
Couples often come for help because they find they are arguing more frequently, and often the arguments start with small issues and escalate into major disagreements. The result is a decreasing sense of closeness and connection.
Some couples rarely, if ever, argue. However, a painful distance and disconnection has evolved.
In EFT, we help the couple identify what we call the “negative cycle,” in which arguments seem to have a recurrent pattern and it has become difficult or impossible for the couple to talk through or resolve issues or concerns. For couples who report they rarely argue anymore; however, the emotional distance between them has widened and they struggle with closing that gap. They’ll often sadly tell me, “We’ve become just roommates.”
In couples therapy, couples learn that the negative cycle is the problem – not either of them. One of the unique strengths of EFT is learning to deepen the understanding of (a) yourself and your needs, (b) how you relate to your spouse and (c) your partner and his or her unique needs and perspectives. This deeper understanding helps couples get to the heart of their concerns – even after 20 or 30 years of marriage.
It is this through this new, deeper understanding that couples are now more able to exit an argument and then collaborate on a solution. At the same time, they can now make sense of the growing disconnection that has resulted from years in the negative cycle.
What about Infidelity?
Yes, there is hope. When both partners choose to take the road to recovery, there is the opportunity to strengthen the relationship. Seventy percent of couples do choose to work on their relationship after an affair. EFT offers a roadmap for healing and rebuilding trust, connection and closeness.
It should be noted that infidelity or betrayal is whatever the other partner views as a breach of the relationship. Texting and internet contact is potentially as wounding as a sexual relationship. Cheating is whatever the hurt partner feels was hurtful and resulting in feelings of less security and emotional safety.
Healing Old Wounds
It is nearly impossible to avoid hurting our partner from time to time: Things said, not said; things done, not done. When the problem is never fully addressed, it may come up again and again, no matter how long ago it occurred.
In EFT, couples learn to have productive, calm, healing conversations to reach a new understanding of that wound and to be able to understand it, to recognize the hurt it caused, to forgive and then to put it to rest.
In the course of the counseling sessions, couples learn a roadmap for dealing with their most challenging issues and concerns – a process they can use in the future long after counseling has completed.
The Different Conversation
In EFT couples learn a positive approach to letting their partner know about any hurt feelings or concerns. In our society, we’re often not comfortable talking about difficult issues. We fear our partner won’t understand or that the conversation may escalate into an argument.
Couples can learn to talk from their true or primary emotions – such as fear, pain, sadness. Their partner sees and hears the deeper feelings, rather than the anger or frustration they see on the surface.
Our modern lifestyle seems to challenge even the strongest relationships. Work, careers, kids and caring for aging parents can all limit the time couples have to spend with each other.
As part of the counseling process, couples develop and establish “rituals.” These are habits the couple discovers that keeps them close. One of my couples began nightly time on their patio each evening to talk, share ideas and just be together. Another couple likes to go to bed earlier so they have time to talk and for intimacy. The ritual is as unique as the couple: They explore and commit to what works for them.
Can Our Relationship Be Saved?
So, back to that original question. There is no crystal ball that can look into the future and predict whether a couple will be able to work through their differences and regain the close emotional connection they cherished.
EFT offers the most successful approach. Unfortunately, couples often hesitate – sometimes for years – to seek help and often arrive at counseling feeling hopeless and fearing the worst. However, we travel the journey together – which may not always be smooth – and you have a guide to help you through the difficult times as you move toward your goals of a happier, healthier and more fulfilling relationship.
For couples who make the commitment to try to reconnect, there is the opportunity to create a new closeness and to maintain what they’ve learned in the couples therapy process into their future together.
To help us get acquainted, I offer a 15-minute free phone consultation. Contact me at 602-882-0533 or Linda@AwareCounseling.com.