Marriage, or being a couple is generally conceived of as the center of family life, and a major source of security for everybody in the system. We would all like a smoothly functioning relationship, but when issues arise and it feels like they can’t be discussed or dealt with in a productive way, reaching out for help is recommended.
The presence of issues doesn’t mean that your relationship is bad, floundering, or even doomed. It means that each of you is suffering and needing to find a way to be heard. There are several possible explanations:
Your skill at communicating your needs to your partner may need improvement. You know what you want the result to be but you deliver your message with a tone or in a manner that closes your partner rather than opening her to want to hear you with her heart.
Your listening skills may need improvement. You may be so preoccupied by your needs that being truly present to hear your partner becomes difficult. Then of course the consequence will be increased frustration on your partner’s part and a ramping up of her anxiety and feelings of loss and anger.
Frustration generated by poor listening and talking skills can create a hardened character to the relationship, one to which their contributions create negative circles of interaction. If this condition prevails, you may be feeling:
- Insufficiently loved
What To Expect
What you should expect from seeing a Couple Therapist is first of all an interest in each of you as people, and an overarching interest in helping you to recognize the ways that you are with each other that are hurtful or unproductive. It’s also so good to hear the therapist illuminate what’s strong and good about your relationship. Sometimes, the therapist may want to have a session or two with you alone, but mostly the focus will be on the two of you as a couple. The two of you create a system of energy. The kind of energy that each of you bring to the relationship is a product of your childhood experiences as well as is an outgrowth of the blending of your personalities.
Couple therapists have a variety of tool box strategies that they employ to improve relationships. The first and most important is empathic listening. To be truly heard is to feel seen and soothed, and these experiences lead to feeling safe and secure. Taking in the model of how the therapist listens with her heart and carefully says back what she is hearing may be a key benefit that you’ll begin to use yourself with your partner. If you’re having trouble listening with your heart, your therapist may ask you to participate in an “active listening” or “mirroring” exercise, which at first seems like an awkward way to have a conversation, but which pulls apart the ingredients of a heartfelt interaction. Your therapist may designate one of you to first be a transmitter and the other the receiver, and later ask you to reverse roles. The job of the transmitter is to fairly concisely say what has been bothering her, while the receiver listens actively, saying nothing, not defending himself in any way. Then the receiver has the task of saying back what he has heard, as accurately as possible, again with no “yeah buts,” no defensiveness. The next step is for the receiver to ask, “Did I get it?” If the person who’s been doing the transmitting feels that either the content or the tone of voice of what’s being given back is “off” somehow, her answer must be “no.” The interactions are continued until her answer to what is being fed back is a resounding “yes.” Then the receiver is able to capture with his heart what his mate has been complaining about, and this of course is the heart of empathy.
Regardless of the techniques used by your Couple Therapist, I believe the climate you should experience be one that communicates caring, understanding, and one that above all helps you feel hopeful about yourself and your relationship.
There are several books that I regard as very valuable to personal and relationship health:
The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck, M.D.
Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendri
The Seven Principles For Making Love Work by Dr. John Gerson