Some thoughts I’d like you to think about for couples:
Couples therapy is a form of psychotherapy that is meant to help couple recognize and resolve problems while enhancing the health of their relationship. These are some of the benefits couples should expect from a therapy.
It helps to modify dysfunctional behavior. The therapist will try to change how the pair usually behaves with each other. It means that besides assisting them to improve their interactions, the therapist will also need to make sure that their clients are not engaging in actions that can cause economic, psychological or physical harm. To do this, the therapist will have to conduct careful assessment in order to determine if their clients are at risk. If necessary, the therapist will make a recommendation based on the problems the duo is facing in order to stop the problem from escalating.
Therapy may reduce emotional avoidance. People who do not express their inner feelings are usually at risk of becoming emotionally distant. The therapist will help them to bring out the thoughts and emotions that they fear conveying to the other person. People who did not develop secure expressive attachments in their childhood have unmet needs that they carry over into their adult relationships. They are afraid of showing their loved ones how much they need them since they fear being rejected. It is therefore essential for people to express their real thoughts in a way that will draw them closer together.
Couples therapy strives to bring about an improvement in communication and aims on assisting partners to converse effectively. The communication should neither be abusive nor should the pair ridicule each other when they express their feelings. It means that people need help in order to learn how to speak to each other in a more supportive and understanding way. Being able to communicate effectively means the couples will learn how to listen more actively and emphatically.
Consider the following writing from an individual about ambiguity and then clarity in communication and counseling. I’ll comment at the end:
Ambiguity in communication is an indispensable aspect in marital counseling.
I have experienced several vital matters throughout the period I provided counseling in Omaha. These issues usually arise from married couples, work group, and none traditionally married couple and so on. Couples discuss these matters in a therapy session, and they often refer to their experiences outside their office environment. The scenario is described as the importance of “good interaction or bad interaction” and ambiguity in communication is the cause of it. Various aspects of spousal communication need to be improved upon; being certain and precise are a few of the issues that couples are advised to tackle. This would reduce the argument and create a strong relationship. I spend a few times every week, offering counseling services, where I noticed the arguers making frantic effort, though without sarcastic tones, trying to make a meaning out of what he or she has just said and what he understands the other person has said. Let me say that as soon as this happens again, I would point it out, and label it as an important thing that has just happened. I subtly maintained that simplicity helps to discover solutions and can put an end to a crisis; it could shift the ground of argument. I have made out a few times counseling couples just to make everybody understand things that were just said. We try to clarify whether the partners understand what was just said by asking, “Do you mean that you do not hear what I said well” or “do you mean you can no longer tolerate this.”
Clarity is a very important lesson which every couple must learn in a counseling session.
Clarity the basic skill to master in couples counseling.
You can improve your life and improve your communication, even in a situation of argument by being clear about what you say. You can apply the principle of clarity to avert conflict by understanding how to ask what the other person means, or understanding how much you have hurt the other person, and by tendering your apology and by saying I am not doing much here. All these need to be said without sarcasm or they won’t be effective. You can say something like “what do you want from me to make you happy,” “what is that you want from me.” This could put an end to any argument. You can put an end to the argument by saying something like “I do not think I am understood.” The chances are there that your partner may not understand you very well, and the implication of this is that your communication is misunderstood, and you need to make yourself clear. You must not participate in couples counseling to employ these tools to your advantage and improve your relationship. To make it clearer to you, if you strive to be precise, you can solve any type of argument. There could be several other hindrances, which could obstruct conflict resolution, but you are getting to the end of the conflict when you are certain, and this would make the other person understand you better. This would help you to grow your relationship.
Ambiguity and clarity are important, but in some of your writing it doesn’t seem that you know a lot about what you are saying, you just assert it. For example, to say, “… if you strive to be precise, you can solve any type of argument.” I do not find that to be true. Being clearer often helps with communication and can, sometimes, decrease conflict, but it does not, in my opinion, guarantee a solution.
Some thoughts about couples, conflict, and improving relationships:
Marriage counseling helps two partners resolve problems and improve communication in their relationship. The process almost always involves both members, but occasionally just one will work with the therapist. Here are some thoughts of the positive help therapy can provide for an ailing relationship.
The Reasons for Seeking Help
When two people are in trouble, often one will force the issue and demand that they seek counseling. Here are few of the most common reasons for getting help from a trained therapist:
If you are struggling with any of the above issues, perhaps it is time to consider relationship counseling.
A journal article I read recently reported:
“Divorce rates were significantly higher for secret infidelity couples (80%, n=4) than for revealed infidelity (43%, n=6) and noninfidelity couples (23%, n=26).”
What that means is that for the 36 couples that were reported on in the study, those with infidelity that was not revealed (not talked about) as an issue saw much higher divorce rates over the five years of follow up that the researchers did for this study. And those couples where they talked about the issues surrounding the infidelity were more likely to make it than those who kept such an issue a secret.
But there is more of interest: “Infidelity couples who eventually divorced reported the highest marital instability; however, infidelity couples who remained married did not differ in marital stability or relationship satisfaction from noninfidelity couples.”
So that seems to mean that if there was infidelity and they divorced, those were also the couples that had the highest marital instability and that would be expected. But the second part of the sentence says that when they remained married (and had been in couples therapy) couples with infidelity were as stable and satisfied in marriage as those that didn’t have infidelity as an issue.
One possible way to look at this finding is to say that infidelity does not mean a worse outcome for the marriage when the issues are worked on in therapy. And there is one more point that was made that I would like to state: “Furthermore, couples who remained married reported an increase in relationship satisfaction over time, regardless of infidelity status.” In this study, when couples remained married, they grew in satisfaction in the relationship regardless of fidelity status, that is, infidelity did not make a significant difference about satisfaction of the relationship. Remember that these couples had been in therapy. Also remember that this is one research paper with 36 couples.
My take on this: if you are willing to work on your issues, and work on infidelity in particular in couples therapy, you can (sometimes) find marital satisfaction at the same level as those who have not had infidelity in the relationship. That is something to think about. Couples therapy can make a difference, and working on your issues, even infidelity, can make a difference.
(Journal article: from Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice.)
I worked with a couple in couples therapy recently where the man, in this case, had strong feelings. The longer we worked together in therapy the more it became apparent that he was taking his strong feelings and telling the wife she should change, because of how he felt. As I worked with him and his side of the relationship, he began to see that his caring, actually let’s call it “over-caring,” had to do with him caring about his wife, feeling it strongly, then strongly telling her to change. He knew that his approach was not the best, that it would push her away. And he didn’t know how else to deal with these strong feelings. So we have moved to “working” his feelings, getting him to know them better, getting him to own them as him, getting him to not try to get rid of them by pushing them on her.
Couples therapy has moments when I work with one of the pair on an aspect of his or her life that is causing problems. To balance things, I very quickly go after the others compliment to the issue. In this case, the wife was pulling back and not saying a number of things that “needed” to be said. More on that next time.
Keep working on the relationship if you can…
The expression “the work” comes up from time to time in working with couples. And at times, couples talk about working on their relationship. In couples therapy, “the work” can mean many things, but it often comes down to getting at the “core” or “deeper” issues that are causing problems for the couple. Couples (and we do the same as individuals) often avoid “deeper” work, “harder” issues, and that often includes confrontation of the other. But it also involves confrontation of the self: one phrase I find myself saying now and then to each party in the couple is that I have to get you to change (when they are often thinking that their spouse/significant other is the one that really needs to be doing the changing). Couples often spend time talking in a session—I let them talk when they are really “working,” when they are getting at important issues or talking in intimate (personal, vulnerable) ways with one another. I sometimes also let them talk when they are focusing on issues that are not important. They often think they are talking about important things when they do that, but there are times when they are not really getting to what they need to. And so there are times when I try to cut off a conversation (or monologue) that is really not getting to the work, is not getting to something that is important, problematic, or getting in their way of functioning well as a couple.
Different couples have different issues that are important to get to, but the most important almost always have to do with deep seated values they have. They may argue about the trash, but if there is a fight going on over a “little issue,” it often means that larger values are behind the trash issue. Sometimes it means they don’t know how to fight about what they really need to fight through and so the trash becomes the vehicle for getting out feelings and even values. It comes down to working on or talking about in a meaningful way the problems and differences in values to a point of acceptance or resolution whether that occurs in couples therapy or at home (or even with a friend or relative). If a couple is not reaching resolution enough (in their eyes), it is probably time to go to work in couples therapy.
Keep working on it when you can…
The holidays have come and gone and a number of couples have talked about how they went as we worked in couples therapy. Everyone seemed to try and talk about the good things that happened but there seemed to also be an underlying current of disappointment. In getting the couples to talk about that, it seemed that a theme was present in every case: taking care of others, which is not really a bad thing and is something that is a part of this holiday season, but there was also a denial of self and of immediate family. And this is an issue that I see causing a lot of folks in my practice problems—taking too much care of others to the exclusion of taking care of one’s own self. When that happens over a long enough period of time, things start to unravel, at least in my practice and with the people that come in and talk with me. They don’t always see it and they often don’t even understand that it is happening. Taking care of others is a good thing for them and for you; doing so to the exclusion of also taking care of yourself causes problems.
So what kinds of solutions did couples come to in the therapy to go about getting some lasting change? The couples that seemed to get the most out of this area of discussion began to realize that they needed to do both, that is, take care of themselves, the couple, and others. Next year they are carving out time at home, alone with just their family, to have the holiday they want. That thought, that plan seemed to make some sense to the couples that wanted that for their holiday.
And a couple where one is always taking care of others and not taking care of him or herself suffers, in the long run if not the short one. So when one party in the couple began to see that not only did he/she need to take care of her/himself better but to make sure that the other half of the couple needed to have some care of self as well, then things were really getting better for the couple. When both are doing better in caring for self and other, the couple often thrives.
Keep working on it, your self and your significant other.
I ran into a situation in my office again today, working with a couple in couples counseling, where a “little thing” was the focus. Couples often say after some small issue has come up that they are fighting about (like laundry, taking out the trash, loading the dishwasher, stuff in the car or on the dining room table, etc.) that they shouldn’t fight about this issue, it is too small, and they should let it go. I, at times, jump in and tell them that almost all couples that come for couples therapy bring little issues. Oh, sometimes they bring big ones (like an affair, a death, divorce, etc.) but most of the time they get into small issues—and I emphasize how important the small issues are. Yes, it is important that they learn to let go of some small things, and when they can, that is good; when they can’t let go, when something keeps bothering them, then the small thing most probably is important and is the way the they are trying to get at deeper values.
Let me emphasize how important it is for most couples to be able to get at and talk through little issues, the small things, when there are important values behind them. Sometimes we work through the small issues without the help of a couples counselor and sometimes we don’t know how to work through the small, value laden issues without that kind of help. If you find that you, as a couple, are too often arguing about small issues, it will important to work to clarify what is being argued about and that will include what are the feelings, values, issues behind the little issue. And what are you really saying, what are you really wanting, when you are arguing about the dishes (or whatever you are arguing about)?
Don’t always dismiss the little things. Of course, let go of them when you can, but when something little keeps nudging you, what is behind it? And can you as a couple talk through that “small” issue?
I hope your relationships are growing…
There have been a number of important issues that have come up on a regular basis during my years of couples counseling in Omaha, whether that is a married couple, non-traditional couple, or even a work couple (that is, coworkers). Couples talk about these issues in therapy itself and they refer to examples in their lives outside of the office.
It often is spoken of as a need for “better communication” or “bad communication” (which lack of clarity can be a part of) and there are multiple aspects of communication that can need work, but being clear and clarifying are a couple of issues that many couples can work on to help decrease arguing and make what arguing that happens be more effective.
I find myself, a number of times each week in couples counseling sessions, where I hear one of the “arguers” make a powerful and effective move by neutrally (without a sarcastic tone for example) clarifying what he or she just said or clarifying what the other just said. I will point this out when it happens – I will mark it as something important that occurred.
I gently emphasize that clarity helps get to resolution, sometimes eases the conflict, and can even change the direction of the argument. I spend a moderate amount of time in couples counseling sessions just clarifying what was said (“So you’re saying that she doesn’t hear you very well?” or “You are saying you can’t live with this anymore?”).
Being clear about what you say will help you in your life much of the time and will often help in communication with a significant other and even in arguments. You can specifically apply this principle to change the course of a conflict by asking (all of the examples need to be said without sarcasm), for example, “What do you mean?” or “How much did I hurt you by that?” or “I’m sorry; are you saying I am not doing enough around here?” You could also try, “What could I do to make this better? What are you saying you want from me?”
And you could stop yourself in an argument and say, “I am not sure I am being clear—what are you hearing me say?” If the person doesn’t hear or understand what was said very well, perhaps you are not communicating it well and need to be clearer. You don’t need to be in a couples counseling setting to use these tools to better your relationship.
Let me be clear: if you will work at being clearer, you will often make progress in solving arguments. There may be other issues and roadblocks that have to be overcome to resolve the conflict, but you will be advancing the discussion when you are clear and you help the other person to be clearer as well.
Keep growing your relationship…
One of the issues that comes up in couples counseling often is arguing. Actually, as a psychologist who works with couples, I see arguing every day. Sometimes I have to help couples realize that it is okay to argue, and what is important is how you argue.
In fact, some of the most difficult couples to help can be the ones that don’t/won’t argue. Conflicts happen and being able to deal with them and work them through is what is crucial for change to occur. Dealing with conflict and working through to a resolution in couples counseling is what helps a couple to feel good about the relationship (and their arguing). Every couple I’ve worked with who struggled with arguing did not like it: it was not productive, and that was at least part of why they had come to see me.
One of the goals of couples counseling can be to help the people in the relationship argue better, that is, to deal with their conflicts better and to reach some type of resolution with each other. There are at least a couple of ways to attack this: to decrease ineffective aspects or arguing and/or to increase agreement.
There are many ways couples argue ineffectively – here are a few:
The list could go on, but let’s look at these four.
Name calling inflames most arguments and does not lead to resolution.
People, often not knowing it, will change the topic of the argument. In fact, as I sit and watch couples argue, they will often change the topic numerous times and not realize how much they are getting in their own way by doing so.
When I watch two people in couples counseling argue poorly, I usually see each side doing a lot of blaming and how little they are hearing what the other is saying.
And it is usually not helpful to talk about how someone else sees it just like you do – I regularly hear one side saying that “all the children agree with me” or something like that.
So, in marital therapy and couples counseling, I will, at times, point out arguing weaknesses as well as move to help the couple to figure out what they are really trying to get to, what they are each trying to point out.
To put a different spin on this, you could work to change your relationship by arguing better: don’t use name calling, stay on one topic at a time, listen more carefully, and stick to your point (you are bringing it up, that is good enough—bringing in others usually increases defensiveness).
Working to a resolution needs to be one of your focuses when you argue, when you are trying to resolve conflict. Watch for more on this in an upcoming post.
Meanwhile, keep growing your relationships!