Most couples are not very aware of a powerful and deep way of interacting that happens between them. I often see it in the office. One person has feelings, usually anger or frustration (though it can be other feelings) and the other individual responds, often matching the feeling intensity of the first. There are many times that the second one to respond has an even stronger response. There is nothing wrong with this pattern in and of itself, but there are many times that couples head into increasing emotions, changes of topic, and a loss of any chance at resolution about the original topic. In the typical pattern just presented, there are many places a therapist can intervene. For example, helping the couple to get back to the original issue can help to resolve the original issue, keeping the couple focused on that issue. One person feeling emotion almost always causes emotions to occur in the others who are present. And because couples can have a pattern of wanting the other person to change, the second person in the scenario may well be feeling defensive and/or attacked as well as just have feelings in response. The brain is faster (some say three times as fast) at this kind of perceiving and feeling than at many kinds of thinking, so your emotional response will be significantly faster than your thinking. It is important for you to be aware that you are having feelings when others are feeling “towards” you or even with you.
So for couples, they often don’t see that they are responding strongly to the others feelings. Just being aware of this fact can help you to work to be a little more objective, to sit back when you are in an emotional conversation and not just respond because you have been “activated.”
Brene Brown gave a TED Talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en) on “The Power of Vulnerability” in 2010. That TED Talk has been watched over 26 million times. Perhaps there is something she is saying that resonates with many people, eh? In that TED Talk, she says a number of important statements, and a couple will be repeated here. She says that you cannot selectively numb and as she explains it, she means that if you work to numb down one emotion, then all of your feelings are effected. And she also says that we pretend what we do doesn’t effect others. Both of these statements were relevant to what couples sometimes bring to couples therapy. One of the two begins to do something and he or she pretends that it doesn’t effect the other. The other may well be hurt by the action or words and after enough encounters, the other begins to numb. In couples work, there is a strong dictum that the therapist has to go after both parts of the problem, has to work with what both sides are doing to make things work, has to go after getting both of the parties to change problematic behaviors. Interestingly, both of the actions mentioned here are not about being more vulnerable with the spouse, and they may even be the opposite, that is, they may work to decrease vulnerability. Every couple gets to decide how vulnerable they are going to be with each other, it is their relationship. In couples therapy, there is often a need to get the couple back to being at a comfortable level of vulnerability, rather than, from the example above, from the situation where one is living in a way that he or she believes problematic behavior is not really a problem and the other is numbing emotions to a better state of increased vulnerability and openness where they are both realizing that what we do and say matters and neither a numbing feelings and shutting their system down.
Watch the talk. See if you can increase your vulnerability in your relationship, if you want to.
I have written about “the edge” before, the place where each person in a duo rubs against one another in a way that doesn’t work well, is irritating, causes problems, and usually makes both really mad (whether he/she shows it or not). Every couple that I have encountered in my office that comes for more than a brief time gets to their edge. Most couples that only come once or twice without much relief were entrenched in their edge and so lost in it that they really didn’t want to change and couldn’t come back to therapy because they were quiting something (their relationship, trying, therapy). It often happens, with many couples (of any kind): when you are together enough, the edge(s) comes out.
The hard part is moving away from the focus on what he/she has to change and to what I have to change. Any change in either of the parties begins to get things going in a new direction, opens up new possibilities, begins to circumvent the old ways of doing things (read that as: changes the old ways of useless arguing). It is always easier to want someone else to change. It is hard to change your edge, a weak part in you that you hardly know. It is very often the answer to how to get significant change for the couple.
So, looking at what was so upsetting for you, then moving to what you need to change is a way to walk up to your edge, a way that you are weak and causes problems for your significant other(s). See if you can shine a light on yourself, into the shadow, at your own edge, then see if you can work to change that. Results will follow.
“When you tell lies, it costs your brain a heck of a lot more resources than when you tell the truth.” Dr. Kang Lee, a professor at the University of Toronto, (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/politicians-lie-actually-were-all-pretty-good-at-it-by-age-5/2016/04/28/7ca64708-073a-11e6-b283-e79d81c63c1b_story.html).
I quote Dr. Lee because he supports something I have seen in couples therapy and relationship therapy with individuals for a long time. Most, if not all, of the clients who come to me that are harboring important information from their spouse or significant other will, at times, talk to me about the burden of keeping secrets. And there is almost always some relief (often along with other consequences) when the secrets come out.
My point? Keeping secrets is a powerful and often devastating issue in relationships, and it takes mental energy to keep them. What do you want in your relationship? What happens if you open up and share your secrets? And what happens when you don’t?
I do not see my job as a couples counselor to get people to tell there secrets. But it is also not necessarily my job to help them hold their secrets. One goal of my work is to help the clients that come to me to understand the consequences of their thinking, their feelings, their actions, and their secrets. That is, in many ways, the focus of couples and relationship work (and the latter is often done in individual therapy). I don’t know what the best thing is for you to do with your secrets. But couples therapy, relationship therapy, and individual therapy are all ways that a therapist can help one to figure out the costs and benefits of secrets, as well as what they are thinking and feeling.
It most cases, it doesn’t, but let me explain some different things to you about therapy and insurance.
People often think they can use their insurance for couples counseling or marital counseling. And prospective patients will call and ask if I “take” their insurance. Let’s look at these two issues.
The vast majority of insurance does not cover couples counseling or marital counseling. There are a small few that cover (I have heard the insurance for Google covers couples therapy but I don’t know that for sure) and I once heard the Blue Cross paid under one of its many plans. And sometimes therapists will bill for one of the couple if he or she has a diagnosis, but that can be tricky. If the session does not deal with the issue the patient with the diagnosis brings, then it should not be billed as part of the treatment for the patient. It is usually best to assume it is not covered, BUT to find out for certain call your insurance company and ask them if couples or marital counseling is covered under your specific policy.
Many therapists, myself included, can bill most every insurance company for you, and in that way they/I “take” your insurance plan. You may be asking if the therapist will send in your claims. Some therapists don’t, but most do. I am set up to easily send in (also called “submit”) your claims.
But you are probably actually asking (when you say, “Do you take my insurance?”) is if the therapist is “in the network,” “in your plan,” or “in-network.” A therapist is in or out of your network and you can usually look that up online or you can ask him/her. Rarely, but it does happen, a provider can get on your plan to work with you, temporarily work with you for an agreed upon rate. Sometimes that works out well enough that the therapist will do it, and there are times when it will not be enough of a benefit for the therapist to make that choice. When a therapist is in your network, you will, most likely, have to pay less to reach your deductible (the part you have to pay in full before insurance starts paying), your co-insurance will pay more (meaning that when your insurance does start paying they will pay more of the total allowed fee than if you use an out-of-network provider), and your out-of-pocket-maximum will be less than when seeing an out-of-network provider (meaning you will pay less overall, “out of your pocket,” to see the in-network provider than the out-of-network provider). So you will, most likely, pay more out of your pocket and your insurance will pay less for you if you see someone out-of-network. But realize that many plans still pay well for you to see an out-of-network provider. I have seen multiple patients where the out-of-network rates paid just under 70% of the fee when the deductible was met, and I have seen patients where their out-of-network portion was much higher than their in-network costs. The best way to know, again, is to call your insurance company and ask.
So if it costs more, why would anyone choose to see a marital or couples counselor who is out of network? It will usually cost more, but it is more private (the insurance company is not a part of it and doesn’t not know anything about it). You may also be willing to pay more to see the provider of your choice. A better qualified provider may well save you money in the long haul.
Whatever the case, I am always willing to help you get to a therapist if I am not the right one for you, if I am not under your plan and you need the savings that an in-network provider would bring you. If you need the help, it is important to go and get it!
In my professional information I recently received the following information:
APA member Scott Pytluk, PhD
Bucket list for two: Sharing wildest dreams can bring a couple closer — Chicago Tribune
“When partners plan for the future together, as long as there’s flexibility in it, they’re expressing a joint sense of hope about their lives together. Couples flourish when there are mutually agreed-upon goals and dreams.”
I believe that this kind of information can be valuable to couples, so I am passing it on to you. Try to share your dreams. Work on goals and dreams together.
And I am a couples and relationship therapist. A couple that is in trouble can often not share “wildest dreams” with one another. So we could use Dr. Pytluk’s information in this way also: if you can’t share your wildest dreams with each other, why not? Often the answer is because there are tensions or problems in the relationship and the couple doesn’t want to share much of anything with each other. So if you can’t share your wildest dreams, can you talk about what is bothering you with him/her? If you can’t talk with each other without getting into an argument, perhaps it is time to see professional help (couples therapy, I would recommend).
So how well are you talking with each other? Can you share your wildest dreams? How about what is bothering you (in a way that your significant other can hear you)?
Actually I had two cases of couples that finished up their therapy this week and it set me to thinking about what happened. How is it they are done with couples therapy? How do couples begin to think that they are done with the work and can go back to their lives without going to couples counseling anymore?
Of course, different couples come with different needs, problems, and concerns so they don’t always “complete” the same sorts of things to feel done with the therapy. And there are often, also, some signs that occur that the couple is doing better, that they are on their way to a successful marriage and don’t need a therapist anymore. The first that comes to mind is that they argue differently. Arguments come up in all marriages. (Note: some couples don’t really talk about an argument and may not argue out loud, but that is not the norm and those kinds of couples have a different set of problems to deal with.) How the couple gets through the argument is what seems to make the difference. Is there resolution for many of their arguments? The couple that feels finished with their couples therapy, usually, are arguing differently because of the work of the therapy: they are having important changes in the arguing and they are coming to agreements about what to do more often. They are arguing better.
An aspect of arguing that I often notice and point out to the couple has to do with how they will begin to do two things during their more productive arguing: they will deal with the details BUT they also will deal with how they are arguing with each other. I have noticed that couples that argue better or more productively move much more easily in and out of the details and how they are treating each other. When couples don’t do this, they often “crash” in the argument and either escalate the anger and get nowhere except to feel badly or they quit and nothing is resolved.
Getting through arguments, therefore, and how a couple argues are signs of difficulty in the relationship, are also signs of progress in the therapy, and even are a sign that the couple no longer needs the therapist. Arguing well, and fluidly moving between details and how they treat each other, are very important issues in a couple’s relationship, and worth your time to look at and work on as a couple.
There is an interesting TED talk that you can view that I recommend to you by Mandy Len Cantron. Go to TED.com and search for her name or “falling in love” and you will find it. It is just under 14 minutes long. She was researching falling in love and happened to try it herself. In the research, the couple would read and answer 36 questions that were increasingly personal and then stare into each others eyes for four minutes. In the research, people were falling in love after doing this with each other. And Mandy, herself, fell in love with her friend (and he with her). She got a great deal of attention from people because this is an important topic for almost all of us. The question that she gets most often is, “Are you still together?” I’ll let watch the video (she doesn’t tell the answer until towards the end) to find out.
I have the suspicion that a majority of individuals who come to counseling about relationships think that someone else needs to change. In couples counseling, it is often the case that each patient tells me how the other (their spouse, significant other, etc.) is doing something wrong or something that causes problems. If the “Other” would just change things would be better. This last part is not said aloud, though I sometimes say it aloud, something I do when a thought or feeling is present in some way but not very fully expressed. “So if he would just do it your way then everything would be fine,” I might say (I have to be careful and not say this sarcastically or sound sarcastic, and I don’t mean it that way but it can be taken that way). We all would like others to do a number of things that would make our life easier. But in couples therapy, the two are usually locked into ways they each want the other to change and nothing is changing. So YOU have to change, or can you begin to think about that. It must be said that he/she has to change also…
So if you are in a relationship and locked in a conflict and find yourself thinking a lot about how he/she needs to change, try to also look at what you need to be changing. It could make a significant difference…
I find myself often referring to “the edge” for a couple as they talk about aspects of how they relate to one another. I will take my hands, holding them flat, twist one hand 90 degrees, and then bring the fingertips together, trying to show with my hands how they are crossing each other, how they are hitting each others “edge.” I have seen some aspect of this with the majority of couples in marital and couples therapy.
Sometimes one or both of the couple will think that it might be easier if they were with someone else, and that may be true, but my belief is that they would still “hit the edge” with a new relationship they would be in; it might be a different edge, but they will eventually bump up against their edges. If you are going to be around someone enough and/or have enough invested emotionally together, then the “edge” will come up. To try to define this “edge”: it is where you cross each other, where what he or she does grates on you, where you offend your significant other though you didn’t mean to do that at all—it is where, even though you may do well in many ways as a couple, you “bump up against each other” and it hurts. Many times, a couple will recoil when this happens, and some of the time that probably works out fine. But it is also often true that couples need to “get through” what happens when they crash into each other emotionally. So the edge is not really a bad thing, though most couples would think so.
Finding out more about you and your partner’s vulnerabilities can be a way to soften both edges, learning that it is ok for your partner to have feelings, learning to deal with your feelings that come up when your partner has feelings, building trust where it is difficult to do so—these are all ways of softening the edges, deepening the relationship, building intimacy, and countering the pain of “crashing edges.”