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.