Q. What are the goals of couples therapy?
A. Goals differ for each couple. For some the goal is a good separation. For others it is to work through conflict and commit with fresh passion to each other.
Q. Couples therapy has a reputation that it is the final stop before divorce. Will it work for me?
A. Will it work for you? I don’t know. I know from my practice that therapy works for many couples. It has even worked for some couples who dragged themselves kicking and screaming into my office and started with both partners seeming to be stuck in a competition about how bad things are, and “I think things are worse than you do, and I think this has less of a chance of working than you do.”
I know that you won’t know if it will work for you unless you try. Sometimes it is better to take a risk than stay stuck in a place that doesn’t work.
I also know that research over the years has become more and more positive about the outcomes of couples therapy. Because of careful observation of thousands of couples in treatment, and careful development of better assessment instruments, we now have a much better idea of what works – and what doesn’t work – in couples therapy. In fact, in a research setting, trained observers are able to predict with 97% accuracy if a couple will be together three years latter, after watching them for just 3 minutes
Q: What if my partner is reluctant to come in?
A: This is actually very common. Most couples have one partner who feels this way. The good news is that this does not predict whether treatment will work. Often the partner who is most reluctant to come in actually becomes the most motivated to change, once they discover some tools to make the relationship work better.
Q: What if our disagreements don’t seem to be resolvable?
A: Some disagreements may not be resolvable. Sometimes it is necessary to agree to disagree on certain issues.
But often disagreements are more resolvable than both partners think they will be. Because partners get into a negative feedback loop with each other, they can quickly develop a sense of despair that real change is possible. One negative outcome triggers the next, in a kind of endless loop. But once the cycle is interrupted, both partners often quickly develop hope that things can improve and become motivated to make the changes necessary.
Q: This sounds like a a lot of work. I’m not sure I have the energy to do it.
A: It does take work. Intimacy takes work. It is one of the great myths of our culture that relationships should be easy.
You also have to take into account that you may be feeling worn down now by a sense of hopelessness about your relationship. Depression is contagious. However, once you make a commitment to the process, and you make the first steps, energy will be freed up for you to continue. The first steps of change can be highly motivating, and they can release a lot of energy. You develop a positive feedback loop, instead of a negative feedback loop.
Q: Can we survive the affair as a couple?
A: Yes, probably. But, working it through often requires help.
Q: We haven’t had sex for years. Is there a chance we will again?
A: Yes, probably.
Q. Why do you work with couples?
A: I guess the easy answer is that because my parents’ marriage was often a pretty grim affair I wanted – from a young age – to find ways to help people who love each other do a better job of it. But of course, not everyone whose parents’ had a rough marriage end up as a marriage therapist.
In fact, for the first ten years of my professional career I did very little couples counseling. It seemed too complex and challenging.
I have become more and more interested in marriage therapy over the last decade, and now it is the majority of my practice. Often deep change happens more quickly than in individual work. I can be more actively involved and directive in couples work than individual work. There is often more laughter in couples work, despite the difficult issues.
I have become convinced that when an individual who is in a relationship comes in for individual therapy, then most of the time they will do actually better in couples therapy than individual treatment. Most psychological issues people have are relational in nature, and these issues are best worked out in the context of a relationship.