“In most marriages, one or both partners resist the idea of counseling. Some can’t afford it or find it inconvenient. And many view therapy as a last resort – something only desperate couples need.” (Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times) In my experience as a couples therapist for two decades, a couple’s fear of coming to therapy is dramatically reduced after attending one session. As is typical, the imagined unknown is more anxiety provoking than the reality.
Couples counseling gives partners the opportunity to engage in a process of healing, adjusting and learning. Most importantly, by creating an environment of acceptance and trust, a productive method of interaction is established. Couples can then speak candidly, working through the challenges and difficulties that impact their individual and shared goals in the relationship.
Often couples find themselves stuck in a “negative loop,” repeatedly arguing about the same (sometimes irrelevant) issues, not feeling understood by one another, yet ill equipped with the tools to effectively address the matter. This is both a frustrating and futile exercise.
In the marriage counseling setting, it is possible to appropriately intervene and short-circuit this negative looping. This allows each member of the couple to be validated for their experience. My role as the couples therapist is to act as a catalyst to enable the couple to hear and validate each other’s experience at a time when they cannot do this by themselves. Over time (usually much shorter than most expect), the couple begins to accept one another’s experience, which allows them to view solving their challenges as a “joint” endeavor.
In my experience with counseling couples, I have found the most success when the couple approaches their sessions with a serious commitment to strengthening the relationship. Each partner is willing to be open-minded about the other’s experience and able to listen without being defensive. While the process is not always easy, when successful, it can lead to a deepening of the relationship where honest communication is achieved and even welcomed.