Couples Therapy – FAQ
Q: What are the goals of couples therapy?
A: Each couple is unique, so naturally the goals of therapy will be different for every couple. For some, the goals are to learn tools to diffuse conflict, to rekindle passion and/or to reclaim a new level of commitment to the relationship. For others, it may be that the goal is how to separate cordially and with as little pain and suffering for themselves and their partner as possible.
Q: What if my partner is reluctant to come in?
A: It is very common for one partner to be reluctant to start couples therapy. The good news is that this does not predict whether treatment will work. Often the partner who is most reluctant to come in actually becomes the most motivated to change, once they discover some tools to make the relationship work better.
Q: But, what if only one partner will attend therapy?
A: Sometimes one person is either reluctant to attend therapy or unable to for logistical reasons. Luckily, the quality of a relationship can still be improved, even if only one partner attends therapy. Relationships are often stuck in cycles, so any change to the cycle can help the couple to get unstuck. In fact, some therapists prefer working with one partner at a time in order to better identify individual concerns. It’s okay to take these first steps by yourself; you will be in a safe place.
Q: Couples therapy has a reputation that it is the final stop before divorce. Will it work for me?
A: Will it work for you? I don’t know. Because therapy involves emotional connections between different people with so many factors in play, it is not possible to guarantee outcomes.
However, I do know that you won’t know if it will work for you unless you try. Sometimes it is better to take a risk than stay stuck in a place that doesn’t work.
Q: What if our disagreements don’t seem to be resolvable?
A: Some disagreements may not be resolvable. Sometimes it is necessary to agree to disagree on certain issues. But often disagreements are more resolvable than both partners think they will be. Because partners get into a negative feedback loop with each other, they can quickly develop a sense of despair that real change is possible. One negative outcome triggers the next, in a kind of endless loop. But once the cycle is interrupted, both partners often quickly develop hope that things can improve and become motivated to make the changes necessary.
Q: This sounds like a a lot of work. I’m not sure I have the energy to do it.
A: It does take work. Intimacy takes work. It is one of the great myths of our culture that relationships should be easy. You also have to take into account that you may be feeling worn down now by a sense of hopelessness about your relationship. Depression is contagious. However, once you make a commitment to the process, and you make the first steps, energy will be freed up for you to continue. The first steps of change can be highly motivating, and they can release a lot of energy. You develop a positive feedback loop, instead of a negative feedback loop.
Q: Can we survive the affair as a couple?
A: Yes, probably. But, working it through often requires help.
Q: We haven’t had sex for years. Is there a chance we will again?
A: Yes, there is a chance. Often times, sexual abstinence is a sign of an emotional deficit in the relationship. Working on rekindling your emotional connection will increase the likelihood for physical re-connection.
Q: What theories influence your work with couples?
A: I have been trained in and use the framework of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) by Sue Johnson. This theory focuses on working to make significant and lasting changes at the primary level of connection and attachment. EFT is geared toward the importance of your attachment bond with each other, recognizing the cycles that gets you stuck with each other, and learning how to change the way you relate to each other at a deeper, more meaningful way.
I have also received level one training in the Gottman approach (by John and Julie Gottman) and I am influenced by the work of Harville Hendrix with Imago therapy as well as by Esther Perel, the author of Mating in Captivity.
Q: Are there any books we can use to get us started in the process?
A: Yes. I have two recommendations for you to become familiar with the concepts in Emotionally Focused Therapy. The first is Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson. The second is Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy for Dummies by Brent Bradley and James Furrow. In my opinion, the second book is an easier read and an alternative to the first. Either one of them can be helpful additions to our therapy sessions and can be used concurrently with therapy.