Lately, I’ve been working with several couples and it has caused me to reflect on the pathway of couples therapy. Most couples come in on the rocks or at least have a lot of rough spots in their relationship. They come in with full intention of making things better or at least to see if things can be better. Once the process gets going, it can get pretty painful as couples start to open up about their frustrations with their partner. Most of the hurt we cause our partner is unintentional yet we are so quick to defend and not explore what really happened. We also decide that our thinking or feeling is somehow more accurate than our partners and fight to get them to see our view. This leads to negative communication patterns, overwhelming hurt, and questioning the love we have for our partner. The automatic response is to get defensive, feel hurt, and sometimes want to flee.
Rest easy. This is normal. The thing is that many couples don’t know how to talk about the hard stuff or don’t know how to communicate their frustrations. In order to change to a more effective functioning requires all the pain and hurt to come out and for both people to feel that hurt and that pain and still want to try to work through it. This is when the miracle begins to happen. When each individual begins to accept their partner’s feelings as valid and recognize their own part in causing hurt, change can begin to happen. Perhaps it is when we are most broken down from the pain that comes from hearing how frustrated or hurt our partner is, that we are vulnerable enough to work for change.
The key to changing a relationship is when both individuals stand in front of their own mirror and ask themselves how they can be better in the relationship for the relationship. Almost always this involves sacrifice and discomfort for the sake of the relationship. But, when the relationship starts going well, the relationship gives back more than any partner could ever sacrifice.
If you are in couples therapy, and you’re deep in the painful stuff, stick with it. If you feel like nothing is changing, don’t wait for your partner to change, look at what you can change. What is your partner asking you for? Can you do a little better to give a little more? Remember, giving to the relationship gives back.
If you’re contemplating couples therapy, trust that amazing things can happen. I had a couple recently who began to have their “breakthrough”. Despite their tendencies to want to defend themselves against hurt and frustration, they started to really try to change themselves. It was very hard, but they had an amazing moment where they started to connect, laugh, and remember how much they loved the other person.
Until next time,