Couple therapy shouldn’t be a last resort but a chance to change negatives into positives, says psychologist Esslin Terrighena.
If you have ever found yourself blankly staring at another slammed door, wondering how that escalated so quickly, you may have joined the many couples who get stuck in frustratingly repetitive patterns of unhealthy arguments. These confrontations are likely followed by guilt, sadness, anger or anxiety, and the nagging thought that somehow you should be able to fix this. What happened to the passionate love you felt so long ago?
Admitting that we are at an impasse often feels like admitting defeat, so we wait and wait, hoping the relationship will improve. Sometimes it does, but more often than not the destructive cycles worsen. We carry increasingly more hurt and anger with us and now the smallest things trigger heated conflict. We find ourselves navigating a warzone that we have created with the one person with whom we would much rather form a strong team.
Often couples come to me for counselling after all else has failed. Shrugging shoulders, crossed arms, thinking “if this does not work, I guess we have to separate”, followed by a sad sideways glance, suggestive of tender hope that somehow this love can be saved.
Couple therapy emphasizes that individuals operate in interactive relationships in which the behaviours of both people reciprocally affect each other. In session, therapists can guide partners in identifying their challenges and goals and collaboratively work toward a mutual resolution to enhance the well-being of their relationship. After all, improving relationships with loved ones can offer an immensely positive boost to individual mental
Couple therapy can be beneficial for a wide range of circumstances, including proactive measures to strengthen the foundation of healthy relationships, intervention for chronic conflict, support for respectful separations, or helping partners to live together harmoniously when they are no longer romantically involved but wish to raise their children as a united family.
The neutral space provided in couple sessions can have multiple therapeutic effects. Partners receive equal time and communication techniques they can use to share their thoughts and emotions in a non-blaming manner. This process allows individuals to both listen and be heard, thereby facilitating constructive progress rather than fuelling fiery miscommunications.
In line with this, partners can become aware of how their pre-existing experiences, beliefs and emotions may influence them in interpreting their partner’s intentions and harbour resentment, anxiety or distress. This can generate more objective views of the relationship.
Crucially, couple therapy helps to highlight behavioural blind-spots that prevent the couple from moving forward. From there, the strengths of each individual and the relationship will be magnified to become coping strategies for resilience in tough times and resources for rebuilding connections. The focus is on disentangling painful emotions, re-negotiating commitments, and creating a positive future.
A key necessity for successful couple therapy is that both partners are willing to work together in shifting dysfunctional behaviours that negatively affect their relationship. Seeing a therapist with the intention to change the partner, but not oneself, does not indicate commitment to forming a loving, equal connection. Couple therapy requires open, honest and respectful communication in the safe space of a therapy environment.
By sharing our needs, emotions, fears and boundaries, we can nurture and re-build close, intimate and trusting relationships together. Importantly, the sooner these steps are taken, the more likely they will result in satisfying, long-lasting relationships.
So, couple therapy should not be considered a last resort after all else has failed – we can rather see it as a further tool for developing, strengthening, and restoring healthy relationships with the person we love.
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