The theme for my sessions today seems to be, “this is hard,” but not just the couples therapy, but also the part about working out being a couple outside of couples therapy. Multiple couples have come to that conclusion today, and I have agreed with them. But that doesn’t mean that it is easy to not do the hard work. Oh, in some ways it is easier to not work on something, but what is the cost?
I try not, as a rule, not to talk much about myself or my relationship with my partner in my couples therapy sessions as a psychologist or even in writing about couples therapy. But I found myself building on something in a session with a couple, building on an issue that was happening in the couples therapy that also has happened at home, so I used an example from home and brought it into the couples therapy.
Everyone knows relationships are difficult, but it’s easy to feel like your relationship is really hard — like your partner is the first partner in history to nag or nitpick or leave dishes in the sink and expect you to clean them.
If you are:
There are many times in Couples Therapy in Omaha, the male is described as insensitive. It isn’t always the male that gets called this name, but it is more often the male. Usually the term “Insensitive Man” ends up to mean that the offending partner pulls back and stops talking.
On thing that couples don’t really think during an argument: “We really disagree on our values on this one!” It’s too bad—that thought could change the argument. When couples are locked into how they are both right, they often stay stuck with their “righteousness” rather than work their way out of the impass. Yet being able to take a step back and think, “we just disagree” often is not felt to be enough. We each often think/feel that we have our “right” point or issue and the other is wrong. But the partner is thinking the same thing. So to back out in your mind (or even by physically taking a step back) can drastically change the shape of the argument.
Michelle Obama has been publishing information about her life recently. And she and the former president have attended couples counseling. She said, “I want them to know Michelle and Barack Obama — who have a phenomenal marriage and who love each other — we work on our marriage and we get help with our marriage when we need it.” If a former president and a former first lady think it is helpful, can’t the two of you?
And couples therapy is a place for change. She also said, “We learned how to talk out our differences,” which is something that is helpful for all couples and something that almost always comes up in couples therapy. You can work on talking out differences.
Maybe it’s time for you to consider couples therapy.
I am going to briefly talk about an issue I have not read about in the couples therapy literature, it is, instead, something I have observed. The issue is talking about how you talk to each other. Couples often get caught up in the details about an issue, who has done it the most, who wants it done, when it should be done, how it is like or not like something else, the details. And they don’t often move to how they are talking to each other about the issue. With many couples, I can tell that they are progressing with each other by their moving in and out of the details to how they talk to each other about those details and then back to the details. Not only is it progress but they are arguing differently in doing so and they feel better about their arguing, probably because it is accomplishing something rather than not.
Maybe once a month or so, a patient comes to relationship therapy alone and works on the relationship, hoping to make things better. There is plenty of work that can be done in individual work on the relationship. And when the patient brings up that the spouse says that they are “100% at fault” for what is bad in the relationship, it is not a good sign. It doesn’t mean that the relationship or the therapy is doomed to failure, but it does mean that things will be difficult.
When a partner believes they have no problems in the relationship, they are stuck. Not being willing to look at yourself or your issues in the relationship often causes problems in the relationship. One person doing all the changing can be a good thing, but it doesn’t always result in making the relationship better. When a partner is not willing to work with you in a mutual way about change, the relationship is hobbled.
Inviting the non-responsive partner to join the therapy often doesn’t work because, the non-attending partner often says, “it is not my problem,” or “you are the on that needs therapy, not me” or some such close minded statement. And being close minded is the end of change. The work, therefore, often is in the person willing to change (the one that choses to go to couples therapy alone, or relationship therapy) working on changing, working on seeing how the partner is seeing them, working on what would make the partnership better for the partner and as well as better for both partners. Working on better communication, blocks to intimacy, finding how one is too controlling, etc., will often help the solo patient begin to bring about change in the relationship. Even if the partner will not come to couples therapy. There is often plenty of work to do alone.
I recently wrote about different styles for couples and how couples therapy can help. Seeing that you are different and that you both feel right about your way is a significant step. Usually, when couples get to this place in couples counseling and they realize “we both are right” or “we both feel we are right” they sit quietly with a “deer-in-the-headlights” look—they don’t know what to do next. The simple answer is to keep going with the discussion, keeping in mind that you are both right.
Fighting has a lot to do with “I am right and you are wrong” whether folks have that consciously in their mind or not. Shifting to “we are both right” and then “we are both right and what are we going to do about it” are great, significant steps, because it is no long one against the other but “what can we do?” “We” do is very different than “you need to change.” Again, continuing the discussion with “we are both right” kept close at hand, kept in mind, changes the tone of the argument. That is a very big change.
So in therapy, when a couple gets to “we are both right on this one,” I am gently nudging them to “keep going” and what happens is often (not always, but often) amazing: one says a solution that just might work. Or the other says a compromise. Or a new part of the issue comes up that has been the problem all along. So I say again, because the couple in couples therapy has moved from “me against you” to “we are both right,” a shift has happened that often moves to different ways of looking at the issue/problem, which releases the gridlock, and a better idea (that is more mutual than “you have to change”) arises. Try it at home (or in couples counseling if you can’t get to it at home): in an argument about x (money, or child raising, or sex, or etc.), say, “What if we are both right? What might we do?” You could move to, “What works for both of us?” Let me know how it turns out.