Common issues that bring couples into therapy are frequent and intense conflicts, intimacy problems, financial stressors, family pressures, infidelities and communication barriers. The degree of severity varies however most couples enter therapy once they’ve entered a stage of deepened conflict. Unsuccessful attempts at resolution can cause frustration and feelings of hopelessness. When in the midst of marital conflict, the world can seem painfully small and options few. Most don’t want to divorce and give up the time invested in the other, and yet it may seem as though there is no alternative.
But upon entering therapy we find that options are great. There is much relief in having our perspectives shared and validated and therapy allows for each person to be heard in a way that is healing. Clients who have avoided counseling in fear of rehashing old and raw wounds find themselves surprisingly energized and their hope renewed.
There is often a moment of epiphany when one can suddenly see what has previously lain dormant. Relieving the stress that keeps us from our deepest sources of ‘knowing’ allows for fresh ideas to flourish. Some people worry that the therapeutic process is about forcing change before they are ready but therapy is not so much about altering ourselves as much as it is about becoming truly who we are and fully realizing our potentials. In therapy we explore our experiences more deeply in order to re-view ourselves and our worlds, and thereby broadening our perspectives. Simply listening to ourselves in the witness of another keeps us truer to our plights and committed to our journey.
There are various stages of the therapeutic process and one critical part focuses on styles of communication. Despite enormous differences in thoughts and beliefs it is entirely possible to have harmonious relationships. How couples resolve conflicts and their degree of effectiveness is key. Upon assessing communication skills through observation and interview, new ways of interacting are recommended and through practice these new skills may become part of the couple’s repertoire. This part of the program is greatly influenced by the research of Dr. John Gottman, Ph.D.
Dr. Gottman has interviewed thousands of couples over the years and in response to scientifically based observations, he has broken away from some of the most popular counseling myths and assumptions. Dr. Gottman identifies ways in which conflict manifests in hidden resentments and how barriers such as avoidance, stonewalling and denial break down marital intimacy. His research concludes that among successful relationships there exists a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions.
Take AwayThis may not come as much of a surprise to many of us, however contrary to belief, Gottman further reports that the act of complaining is actually useful in marriage because it can teach our partners what we need and want. However, criticisms can be devastatingly harmful when it comes to trust and intimacy. Criticism breaks down self-esteem in our partners, much in the same way as it does in our children and while there is a thin line between complaining and criticizing it is a line that is most important.
The quiz on the next page may help to differentiate the two. Take the Couples Quiz